Khadaji’s Whatcha Reading Thread - October 2021 edition

Stephanie Plum went to my High School in NJ, so it’s always a hoot when she names local landmarks (like Quakerbridge Mall). That said, I don’t recall her actually naming anything in my home town. And she doesn’t live anywhere near there anymore.

I’ve been on a giving up on books streak lately.

  1. Read the prologue of Wilmington’s Lie by David Zucchino and gave up on it. It angried up my blood too much. Plus it reminded me of why I left eastern North Carolina. It did inspire me to look up my alma mater to see if they renamed Charles B. Aycock dorm. Narrator: they did.

  2. Read the first hundred pages of Trilby by George du Maurier, gave up on it because the edition the local library had (Everyman from the 1970s) did not have any footnotes, endnotes, or a helpful person to translate the pages of French. Ich spreche kein Französich. I’ll have to hunt down a Penguin edition through interlibrary loan because I know they translate the French.

  3. Read the first five pages of All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren and closed it firmly. It’s mid-20th century white male literature, a genre I loathe. Also I hate the Penn Warren’s writing style.

The one book that has survived the culling from my latest library trip is Augustus by John Williams. We’ll see how long that one lasts. Ancient Rome is totally in my wheelhouse so I’m predicting (hopefully) that I’ll get all the way through it.

I told a lie in the last paragraph. There is one other book that survived: Death Ex Machina. I know I’m going to get through that one, probably in one sitting. I love the Nico and Diotima mysteries.

Started this morning on Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. I’ve been shuffling it to the bottom of my To-Be-Read pile because I’ve read it before. Or have I? So far I don’t remember it.
:dancer: Woo hoo!

Finished The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art , by Sebastian Smee. I was more interested in the descriptions of the paintings than the artists’ lives. One interesting anecdote was about a 1918 auction in Paris of valuable works of Impressionist art. Many bidders from museums and private collectors came, and the prices would have been higher, except that the auction took place during WWI while the city was being bombarded by the German army. Lots of the bidders prudently departed halfway through. Bidders from Britain’s National Gallery remained, which is why they have such a good collection of Impressionist works.

Now I’m reading The Dragon House by Darrell Schweitzer.

Finished The Dragon House by Darrell Schweitzer. Recommended for fans of John Bellairs’ books, such The House with a Clock in its Walls.

Now I’m reading Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, by Mary Roach.

And let us not forget the San Francisco entrepreneur Sol Bloom, who brought an entire Algerian village to the fair’s midway, thereby introducing belly dancing to America. Due to a slight misunderstanding, the villagers showed up a year early. At a publicity event, Bloom on the spot improvised the tune for what became known as “The Snake Charmer Song.” You can hear it here, but you may hear it in your head automatically when you read the words, “There’s a place in France where the ladies wear no pants.” The tune came to symbolize “the Middle East” in countless films and even Looney Tunes cartoons. Bloom neglected to copyright the tune and thus missed out on an estimated millions in royalties if he had.

A fellow named Akoun started producing an attraction originally called The Streets of Cairo for other World’s Fairs and midways. He later expanded this into The Beautiful Orient. He, too, promoted belly dancers (called “muscle dancers” in those days).

When Revere Massachusetts’ Wonderland decided to put a Beautiful Orient in Wonderland Park, they evidently didn’t want to pay Akoun, so they got someone named J.S.N. Maloof cobbled together their own version. It had belly dancers, Turkish Wrestlers, a Bazaar, and a Middle Eastern restaurant. Unfortunately, it only lasted a year. The next year the Florida Alligator Jungle opened in the same spot, right under those spires and minarets and onion domes, even if that made little sense.

I’m currently reading Thomas Pynchon’s only short fiction anthology - “Slow Learner.” These are quite possibly the only works of short fiction he’s published, and there’s also an Introduction written by Pynchon himself. Which is definitely a one-off; the intro is as close as Pynchon will ever come to discussing his work publicly. It is jocular, kind, and critical, and by far my favorite aspect of the book. The stories themselves are delightful nonetheless.

“Entropy,” a short story from the collection, especially stands out for its strangeness. It does seem quite difficult to find this story endearing, and Pynchon himself regards this as a weak work. In his words - he shortchanged the characters for the abstract aspects in the story, which delves into thermodynamics and higher-order mathematics (the title is “entropy” after all). It does feel like an experimental piece gone slightly awry, but I have been reading up about the Balmer Series since I read the story, so there’s that I guess.

Finished Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, by Mary Roach, which is interesting.

Now I’m reading The Odd Couple, by Neil Simon.

Ah, thanks. I know you posted here, Quimby, as I did, but others here might want to check out this thread, too: Favorite Star Trek Books?

I listened to an audiobook of ATKM a few year ago (read by Michael Emerson of The Practice, Evil, Lost and Person of Interest fame) and mostly liked it, but it’s certainly not for everybody. The book is also, I thought, far, far better than the movie.

Finished The Odd Couple , by Neil Simon, which was okay. One thing that stood out to me was that Felix has two children whose names he never mentions, although he does say one’s a boy, 7, and one’s a girl, 5. He’s talking to two women he’s just met.

Now I’m reading The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal about Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power, by Deirdre Mask.

Huh. I read that way back in high school, for Drama class, but did not remember that. His children appeared on the TV show from time to time. Looking them up, I see their names were Leonard and Edna.

Finished The Bloody Chamber, it was okay. There were about eight stories in the book (sorry, I don’t have it with me) and three were good. The writing itself was on point throughout.

Started today on an epistolary sci-fi novel, The Future is Yours by Dan Frey. It’s about a couple of guys who invent a way for computers to connect to the internet of one year in the future.

Finished The Second Sleep, by Robert Harris. In a post-Apocalyptic world centuries from now, life has pretty much returned to the Middle Ages. A priest and some villagers in England try to figure out just what happened during the Apocalypse back in what was called the 2020s, because knowledge of that time did not survive the period. A cautionary tale, and being published two years ago, just before the pandemic, it must have seemed rather prophetic since one of the suggestions for the cause of the Apocalypse was a pandemic. The title comes from a previously common but now-outdated practice of experiencing two intervals of sleep at night, a first sleep and a second sleep, with individuals waking up sometime after midnight for a brief interval. Not bad but not his best either.

Next up is another Harris, his latest, V2, a novel of World War II.

Given his personality, the situation and the era, would you have expected him to name them, or not mention them at all?

Considering the situation, in which he was breaking down in tears in front of two very sympathetic listeners (Oscar was out of the room), yes, I think he would and should have named them. He went on at some length about their behavior, how polite they were, how his wife, Frances, had done such a great job raising them.

Back on topic: Finished The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal about Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power, by Deirdre Mask. Highly recommended. I had no idea addresses could be so important. Many very interesting anecdotes.

Now I’m reading Tales from Alternate Earths III, by Alan Smale, et al. (The author of the preface, who may be the editor, although one isn’t specifically listed, is Minoti Vaishnav.)

Thanks, DD. I understand.

Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings Earl Swift

After the triumph of Apollo 11 and the near disaster of Apollo 13, interest in the moon landings declined considerably. How could NASA excite the public’s imagination about space travel again? The answer was obvious to Americans in the 1960s and 1970s: They needed to send a car !

The moon buggy, or Lunar Reconnaisance Vehicle, first launched on Apollo XV, was a big hit with the public. And it wasn’t just a gimmick. The vehicle gave the astronauts much greater range (Apollo XI never got more than a few hundred meters from the Eagle, Apollo XVII astronauts went several kilometers) and added greatly to the science. About 3/4’s of the lunar samples brought back to Earth were collected on a rover.

The history is well related in this enjoyable and interesting book. Recommended.

I have several books to report on.

Winter’s Orbit by Everlina Maxwell. A fun space opera, with a sweet M/M relationship.
Moon’s Knight by Lillith SaintCrow. A fairy tale of a sort. It reminded me very much of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I highly recommend this one.
White Trash Warlock by David Slayton. This is an urban fantasy, with a young warlock and a growing circle of his friends, including a Reaper.

I’ll stop with Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series. The first book is Deadly Education. Imagine a world similar to Harry Potter’s with magic co-existing with mundanes, who are completely oblivious. Magic youth are swept away to school, ostensibly for their own protection. They are isolated from all adult supervision, and left to deal with deadly monsters. The books are excellent.

On today’s episode of “Gave Up On It Theater” we explore the disappointment that was Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin.

Spin won the Hugo in 2006. This does not bode well for my reading pile because I usually end up throwing award winners across the room. (See also: the Booker Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and American Book Award.) I keep reading them, though, because occasionally I’ll find a diamond in the rough. Very occasionally. This was not an occasion.

The premise: one night the stars went out, along with the Moon and the aurora borealis and australis. Investigations reveal that the Earth has been surrounded by some kind of barrier. The sun that appears in the sky is not the real Sun. Further investigation reveals that time is moving faster outside the barrier than it is within to the tune of 3 years per second. Even further investigation reveals that there are some sort of extraterrestrial machines hovering above the border. All of this leads up to the revelation that the Sun’s heliosphere is going to engulf the Earth in about 40-50 years Earth time.

Mankind, being what it is, reacts in different ways. Some people ignore it and go on with their daily lives. Others turn to religion. Still others turn to science. The science contingent begins work on a plan to terraform and colonize Mars to preserve the human race. The terraforming goes well enough that in three Earth years, humans are sent to start the colonization. This is where I gave up.

The premise sounds great, doesn’t it? So what was the problem? The characters. The incredibly boring, overexplaining, misogynistic characters. Specifically the narrator Tyler Dupree who has the personality of a wet paper bag. Tyler spends his entire life obsessed with his childhood best friends Diane and Jason Lawson (they’re twins). They’re Rich Kids who took pity on Tyler as the neighbor’s Poor Kid. Their father, E.D. is a tyrant who has a disturbing authoritarian relationship with Jason, grooming him as a child to take over The Family Business. E.D. ignores Diane because she’s a girl. Their mother Carol is an alcoholic. We know this because EVERY SINGLE TIME Tyler mentions Carol he mentions that she likes to drink. Tyler’s own mother is a nonentity who cleans the Lawson’s house.

To add insult to injury, the story moves. very. slowly. I’m guessing the plot was outside the barrier because in 150 pages very, very little happened. There was a lot of teenage angst. There was a lot of sleeping around. There was a lot of explanation. There was a LOT of repetition of the explanation. Occasionally something would happen but then it would be explained again from a slightly different angle. Plot points were dragged out slowly to the point that I was hoping that the Sun would just go ahead and engulf the Earth so it could kill Tyler Dupree. Sadly that does not happen. (I skimmed the last page and he’s still alive there. Dammit.)

That concludes today’s episode of “Gave Up On It Theater.” Join us next time for “Did Not Give Up On It Theater” where we will discuss John Williams’ Augustus. Ah, Roman history. You never disappoint.