#80 Wicked -Gregory Maguire

Wicked
Wicked -Gregory Maguire

i rolled up to the Wicked party about 20 years late. To be honest it was a book i had judged by its cover for all those years. i would see it in a friends library, or on a bookstore shelf and something about the cover design just sort of repelled me. i can’t explain why (and if the graphic designer of that cover is ever one of the 5 people who actually reads this please don’t take this as a stab at your skillful work) but it just didn’t reach out to me.

i was also very much aware of the salacious nature of the book. Which should have been a draw for my depraved mind, but something about turning Baum’s magic fantasy world into something so gritty just felt wrong to me.

Wicked also falls into that vein of “Fan Fiction”: a writer delving into someone else’s universe instead of creating their own. A vein of writing i struggle to engage with.

 

On all of the above reticences let me just say… i was wrong. i was wrong to not pick this book up in the mid 90’s when the Wicked craze started. i was wrong to feel like the gritty nature was off-putting to the Oz universe. i was wrong to let my revulsion of fan-fic keep me from thumbing through these pages.

Wicked is an absolute blast to read! Elphaba may very well be one of my most favorite literary characters. She’s complex and relatable. She’s likable but far from perfect. She’s not a hero, or a villain, nor would i call her an anti-hero. Her character development arc is (in my opinion, which is what ALL of this is) one of the best i’ve ever seen.

Wicked is gritty, and complex, and violent, and sexual… and it is beautifully so! Maguire also manages to do all those things without writing a book that feels pretentious!

Book Club of One grade: A+. Wicked is one of the best books i’ve read this year. i will most likely explore more of Maguire’s Oz series as well. If, like me, you missed the bandwagon years ago, jump on board with me. i’ll save you a seat

#85: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

anathem
Anathem -Neal Stephenson

Anathem is a meaty sci-fi romp through a number of philosophical thought experiments. When i use the term “meaty” here i mean meaty like a primal cut of beef brisket: It’s large (this is quite a read), and dense (i’d guess close to 50% of the word-count of Anathem is dedicated to philosophical debates).

The Title “Anathem” is a mashing together of Anathema and Anthem and refers to a sort of ceremony of disgrace that takes place during the story.

Stephenson does a good job using a sci-fi setting that’s not Earth to make some great observations about life on Earth as we know it. Two of my favorite of these observations were the “Jeejaw” and “Slines”.

  • Jeejaws are the cell-phones of Stephenson’s world. The world is seperated into Avout and Saeculars. Avout are those pledged to a monastic tradition and committed to a minimalist lifestyle, most of the main characters are Avout. Saeculars represent basically everyone else in the world. The Avout live without Jeejaws and they find them to be intrusive and great distractions when they move out and interact with the Saecular world. It was just another nudge to help me see the intrusive impact my own cell-phone has made in my life.
  • Slines: Slines represent a sort of popular culture consumer in the Saecular world. If you’ve ever felt like an outsider to those enamored with popular culture you’ll likely find in the Slines a familiar sort of occurrence…

 

The story-line is pretty sweeping overall (but the book is certainly long enough to contain such an ambitious plot). You’ll travel from simple monastery life, through Anathem’s world-at-large, and eventually wind up in space with pan-dimensional beings… Things wrap up with a very jarring, and intriguing, exploration into the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, with an interesting twist asking, “what if the many worlds have some sort of effect on each other?”.

 

Book Club of One grade: B+ Worth the read. Anathem is not light reading and sometimes it felt like the story-line was moving in fits and starts, you may spend many pages on a dinner chat then in two pages find yourself across a continent or into space itself.  Overall the concepts it lays out, the social insights, and the refreshing story-line make it a fine piece of Sci-Fi.

76: Rendezvous with Rama -Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama -Arthur C. Clarke
Rendezvous with Rama -Arthur C. Clarke

The sweet sweet taste of speculative science fiction!

Let me open by saying there’s quite a bit i really liked about this book… and not a lot that i disliked (got ya!)

It really was a refreshing read for me: A Strange cylindrical object hurtles through our solar system. The closest space-ship makes an unplanned run for the object to see what it is and finds out it’s an alien spacecraft (cue orchestra hits here).

One of the things i most liked about Rendezvous with Rama was that it doesn’t spoon feed the reader explanations for everything the explorers find on the vessel. It’s packed with mystery the way raisin bran isn’t packed with raisins. When i finished the last page of the book it left me wondering what certain areas in the giant ship were really for, about the ecology of the place, about… well, about so very much!

i know that there is a whole series of Rama books that Clarke penned, and honestly i’m torn. Part of me wants to read them, i want to dig deeper into the mystery that is Rama with him. Yet, i also want to keep the curiosity alive and not plug it with explanations.

To pass judgement: Book Club of One grade: A. It’s fun, it’s thrilling and tense without dipping into horror. Rendezvous with Rama is a near perfect read for a long trip, by car, plane, or space craft!

#89 Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

Outlander- Diana Gabaldon
Outlander… Steamier than the hot-bar at Golden Coral!

The tale of a post-WWII nurse who finds herself 200+ years back in time! Scottish highland shenanigans and political intrigue abound! Oh… and it’s a romance novel…

 

It’s my first dip into a real “romance novel”. Granted, i’ve read lots of books where romantic interests were front and center, even some books that if made into a movie would certainly fall into the category of “Chick-Flick” (spoiler: i LOVE a good chick flick! haha). “Real” romance novels use a lot of words like “Slippery”, and “Swollen”, and “Thrust”… There’s also the phrase, “He sheathed himself all the way to the base…” (that’s in there… double entendre intended)

Pardon me while i fan myself off! This is sexy stuff!

Also… it was super distracting for me. i’m all for healthy sexuality, heck i really enjoy healthy sexuality! But the constant jumps to sexy-time with steamy (granted creative) descriptors was just too much for me. Let me explain by not talking about The Sex: Epic battles are AMAZING, but if a novel spends too much time describing every sword-stroke and wound inflicted in flowery and creative language it eventually (by which i mean quickly) becomes a distraction to the story-line.

Outlander was pretty well written overall (even the gratuitous sexual encounters were written with some real skill). i really wanted to like Outlander. Characters with complex personal and political motivations. Strong(ish) female lead. Scotsmen!!! But alas it still never managed to grab me. Jamie felt like a perfect hero up until the end of the book. Claire was an engaging heroine, complex in her actions and reactions, but close to the end of the book  she pulls a stint as a seer-level insightful immersive psychologist… that really killed it for me.  There were hints at some cool fantasy elements that never really seemed to develop: a scene with a witch where something engaged with the lead character and a cameo by Nessie, but neither went anywhere and could have been removed without affecting the plot…

Outlander was also plagued by a villain with thin motivations. There was nothing likable about Captain Randall… An enemy with nothing likable is just not very engaging to me (even Satan himself knows how to party!).

 

After reading the first book i think i’m done with the series. If you want to read something that throbs, thrusts and swells but don’t want to check your brain at the door you can’t go wrong with Outlander… But if you’re looking for time travel fantasy that features a strong female lead go with Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

Book Club of One grade: C-, see above if you’re wondering if you should read this. Written with skill but not my cup of steamy, sweaty, throbbing tea.

Top 5 Books i read in 2017

My year of reading in 2017 was (like most of my goals for 2018) a tad lack-luster… Normally i read 50+ books in a calendar year. 2017 i consumed a grand total of 32 books…  i did spend quite a bit of reading time consuming RPG related materials, which i didn’t really add to my consumption totals.

Pity-party behind us, let’s look at my top 5 reads in 2017 (in no particular order, except for my #1 pick)

Small Gods -Terry Pratchett

Wasn’t a huge Pratchett fan before reading this gem. If you want to know more about Small Gods you can see my Book Club of One review here: Small Gods: Book Club of One Review

 

A History of the World in Six Glasses – Tom Standage

A walk through human civilization breaking it all down in eras of imbibement! Chock full of great information. It is a little sad that our era is best described as the Coka Cola era… Other eras being marked by beer, or wine, or whiskey…

 

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

i read The Handmaid’s Tale way back when i was in High School and it was a jarring powerful book that stuck with me! My re-read was possibly even more jarring! So well written, a powerful message, and possibly even more timely now than when i first read it.

 

Frankenstein -Mary Shelley 

So, i’d never read this rock solid classic until this year. What a book! Nothing at all  like the portrayals of Frankenstein’s monster that Hollywood has given us for decades now. Read this classic gem!

 

 

My #1 pick for 2017: The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben

Hidden Life of Trees
Mind Blowing Reading!

i can’t think of any book that i’ve read recently that has challenged the way i view things more than The Hidden Life of Trees. Skillfully written, engaging, and packed with thought-provoking ideas. Read this book and never look at a tree the same again!

 

Well, there you go. My favorite reads from 2017 just in case you’re looking for something to feed your head, and your mind, and your brain (the holy triumvirate given to us by the great musician and philosopher Dewey Finn) maybe one of these will fit the bill!

#99: The Xanth Series – Piers Anthony

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Xanth Novels!

Disclosure: i’ve read the first three books in the series. In a series that currently sits at 41 books (with two more waiting in the wings for release) i felt like reading the whole series would be an undertaking in itself. An undertaking on par with the NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy books (the herculean task the Book Club of One is currently doing!).

Here’s what i think you should know about the Xanth books:

  1. There’s going to be more puns than a dad-joke competition. i LOVE a pun so i was the proverbial pig in slop! Some folks get weary of puns after a while, those folks are to be avoided… and if you’re one of those folks it may be best to avoid Xanth.
  2. Xanth books are overall FUN. They’re light and goofy and tons of fun. Don’t think you’re picking up high fantasy or you’re going to be disappointed.
  3. They are about the pay-off at the end. Every one i’ve read has a sweet (and worthy) pay-off in it’s final pages. (the second one, “The Source of Magic” has a very cool pay-off indeed!)

 

If you’re looking for something to pick you up and have a hankering for wacky fantasy then Jump into the expansive pool that Piers Anthony has created and swim around in his world of Xanth.

 

Book Club of One Grade: Solid B! The books are light and fun and tend to be a pretty quick read. Brace yourself for word-play and embrace the wonder of Xanth!

NPR’s Top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books, a personal project

Things i enjoy include: good books, good book clubs, nerdiness! Those three things combine into one mighty personal project!!!

To Read ALL the Things on NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book list!!!!!

I’ve been a part of a book club for a while now, i recommend a good book club (focus on the GOOD book club part of that) if you’ve never been a part of one give it a whirl. Book Club pushed me to read so many books i’d never have given a chance on my own, and i was blown away by the experience. Due mostly to the chaotic and hectic nature of this thing we call life: that book club may be on an extended hiatus. So, i, in an effort to push myself to read more started: Book Club of One! (Discussion in my book club can get really heated, which garners some real looks when Book Club of One is held anywhere public!) NPR’s list of Sci-Fi books has become my source list for this project: to push me to read books i may not otherwise pick-up but that are still well within my personal wheel house.

Many of the books on the list i’ve already read. Some will be re-reads because it has been literal decades since i read them last. I’m a quite a few books deep into the project and it’s been quite fulfilling so far! i’ll be posting reviews here on a fairly regular basis from here out so keep your eyes peeled to see what a middle-aged fellow thinks about books that have been deemed worthy by a troop of reviewers and voters.

If you want to check out the list for yourself click here, it’s very good and hopefully it may steer you to read something new for yourself: NPR’s article and link on their top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books

 

If you want to see the most up-to date data on my progress you can click here, this is a current doc of my journey through the books with a color code of recommendation (Green = Read it, Yellow = Read it if you have time, Red = pass on it); there are also brief notes on my overall thoughts on the books here as well:  My Progress on NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books 

(a link to my list is also on the side-bar of my blog page)

What am i doing here?

Years ago i had a blog…

i would regularly write as a way to collect my thoughts, and post them there. Over time that collection of my thoughts became something that i cherished. So i did what came naturally: i deleted them all and stripped that old blog down to absolutely nothing… No need getting soft, right?

But here i am, a few years older, probably not much wiser, and thinking it’s a thing i’d like to do again. It provided me with a time of reflection and introspection and gave me a spot to ruminate on ideas. So i’m endeavoring to post something weekly here, for at least the next 3 months (and hopefully beyond). i’ve sprung the minuscule funds to get my own domain, and set-up this woefully simple site; so here goes!

To provide some structure for myself, and whoever else may misstep and find themselves here, i want to post within a few categories, categories pertinent to who i am. So, who am i? My bride once wrote a great 6 word biography for me, “My life is love and mischief.”  In my Instagram profile (the only social media i’m really very active on by the way) i’m self-described as: “Part time curiosity seeker, reader of things, spreader of mirth, and Oxford comma advocate.”  My everyday friends know that i’m an avid cyclist. My cycling friends know that i’m a pretty hard-core nerd. Life, work, and my quest to seek out curiosities mean that i like to go new places, aka i’m a traveler.  At the root of things i’m spiritual, just maybe not like everyone wants me to be.

Those things fairly concisely describe me and most of my interests so i’m going to catalogue my ramblings as follows:

Reading: Books i love, books i hate, books i read, ingredients on shampoo bottles, book club stuff (when i’m involved with one) etc etc etc.

Travel: i go places, i see things, i drink in life. May have an addiction to the National Park Service! When i ramble and my mind rambles i’ll hammer away on my keyboard under this heading.

Spiritual: i made a living as a professional minister for years, my faith is VERY important and sacred to me. It’s probably the thing i wrestle internally with the most in this life. i’m prone to doubt and question… Spiritual moments will be filed here!

Cycling: Life is better on two wheels. traveling down road or trail with only yourself as an engine! Reflections on life as a two-legged-motor will be under Cycling.

Nerdity: i’ve been a nerd for my entire existence.  i will passionately debate the finer points of the LOTR mythos, am in a razor thin minority who loves Kirk AND Jean Luc, get frustrated when people can’t tell 12 sided dice from 20 sided dice, have a solid strategy for winning base Catan a majority of the time, and will smite you down (left handed) if you bad-mouth The Princess Bride!    i also love Carl Sagan and what he did to make real science accessible and alluring to the average person, think it’s a great time to be alive when Neil deGrasse Tyson is a public figure, want to give NASA more money to do cool space stuff, and have a near encyclopedic knowledge of mammalian life forms on this planet! i’m a sort of renaissance nerd! Post containing Nerdity will be posted under this category.

Life: Someone once said, “Life… It just keeps coming at you, right up to the end.” i have no idea who said that (it could’ve been me, i dunno) but it’s true. Life just keeps happening. The vast majority of the time i drink it in, sometimes though it knocks me on my butt. Posts that fall under all things life and living will be sorted thus.

 

So… thus this thing begins.