2013年2月16日 星期六

Books I Read During Winter Vacation

1. More Penguin Science Fiction ***1/2

Great collection of sci-fi from the late 50s and early 60s.  Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov are among the contributors.  All of the stories are good, though some are better than others.  Suprisingly, the story by the guy who wrote "Spartacus" stands out even in this company.

2. Andromeda 2 ***

A British sci-fi anthology from the 70s.  I liked this one a lot.  None of the authors are famous, but the stories are all entertaining.  There's a great story at the end about an immortal living in a future Africa.

3. "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel **1/2

The first 100 pages of this book are tedious.  Entire chapters do nothing to advance the plot, and the protagonist, for all his New Age enlightenment, is surprisingly judgmental on a number of topics.  How does he KNOW that animals are happier in zoos?  How is an agnostic's life filled with confusion?  How are atheists devout?

It gets much better about a fourth of the way in, but 200+ pages aboard the lifeboat was still pushing it.  The shipwreck bit is good, and the ending is deftly executed, but this book is burdened with too many details, and too many similar scenes.  Had it been a hundred or so pages shorter, it would have been much better

4."The Sex Life of Cannibals" by J. Maarten Troost ***

About an American's two-year stay in Tarawa, an atoll which belongs to Kiribati.  It's quite a funny book, though it has little sex and NO cannibalism.  I don't read a lot of travel writing, but this book compares favorably to other travel books I've read.

5. "The 19th Wife" by David Ebershoff **

A mystery novel about Mormons which flashes between the days of Brigham Young and the present time.  The characters lack depth, and their actions are entirely predictable.  It's readable, but a more thorough writer could have done a lot more with the subject matter.

6. "Batman: Hush" by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee *1/2

Jeph Loeb is a good writer.  In this TPB from 2003, he picked up where he left off in the landmark "Long Halloween."  Jim Lee provided the pencils, and his art made me miss Tim Sale.  You would think that someone as famous and technically proficient as Lee could avoid copying Frank Miller.  Parts of this TPB bear an unfortunate resemblance to "The Dark Knight Returns."

9. "Batman: The Long Halloween" by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale ****

This comic book was probably the single greatest inspiration for Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy.  A mysterious killer by the name of "Holiday" prowls the streets of Gotham, and Batman, Harvey Dent, and Jim Gordon team up to track him (or her) down.  Great art and writing.  One of the classics.

10. "Saga of the Swamp Thing: Volume One" by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben ****

Alan Moore's first appearance at DC, long before he would go on to fame as the writer of "Watchmen."  I am old enough to have read some of these when they first came out, and I can remember the the effect they had - and continue to have - on me.  It might not have seemed so at the time, but comic books like this one were truly revolutionary..

11. "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Marcia Marquez ***

Marquez's "100 Years of Solitude" is one of the best books I've ever read.  "Love" is, as the title implies, more of a straight-ahead love story, and it lacks the sense of absurdity that made "100 Years" so memorable (for me, at least).  I liked it, but not nearly as much as "100 Years."

12. "Fight Club" by Chuck Palahniuk ***1/2

One of those books that I've been meaning to read for a long time.  The movie adaptation, starring Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, was surprisingly faithful to the source material.  If you like this book, you'll probably also like Palahnuik's "Invisible Monsters."  The movie - which just about every white, heterosexual male has seen at least twice - spoils the ending, but it is still well worth reading.

13. "Marvel Comics" by Sean Howe ***1/2

I devoured this book.  It details the history of Marvel Comics from its beginnings in the 30s to the present day.  What emerges is a story of lawsuits, betrayals, and corporate backstabbing.  I found it completely absorbing, but I don't know how interesting it would be for those who didn't grow up reading comic books.

14. "The Dream of the Celt" by Mario Vargas Llosa **

Kind of boring.  Based on actual events, this novel explores Roger Casement's life as a homosexual and Irish nationalist.  Casement learns about the horrors of colonialism in both Africa and Peru, and is later imprisoned for treason.  I can't figure out why so many people raved about this book.

15. "Foundation and Empire" by Isaac Asimov **

The second book in Asimov's original Foundation Trilogy, which was later expanded to a series of seven books.  This book introduces The Mule, a powerful psychic whose appearance casts doubt on Hari Seldon's psychohistoric predictions.  The ending is completely predictable - even if you haven't read other books in this series - and this novel left me feeling disappointed.  I would highly recommend "Foundation" and "Second Foundation," but this one was pretty weak.

16. Marvel's "Civil War" **

The complete series incorporates over a hundred individual comic books, and every title in the Marvel line.  After the New Warriors accidentally cause the deaths innocent civilians, American public opinion causes discord within the ranks of superheroes.  Iron Man wants heroes working for the US government, while Captain America (oh, the irony!) tries to protect the individual liberties superheroes have taken for granted.  It's one of the better ideas for a "crossover event" that Marvel has come up with, but 106 issues was overblown - even for Marvel.  I STILL haven't read all of them!

17. "Moll Flanders" by Daniel Defoe ***

Defoe also wrote "Robinson Crusoe," which I read some time ago.  "Moll Flanders" is less religious in tone, and there is a moral ambiguity in it that is almost entirely absent in Defoe's more famous tale of the island castaway.  It requires patience to get through, but I found this story of a "fallen woman" much more compelling.

18. "The Swerve" by Stephen Greenblatt **1/2

This inadequately titled book illustrates the rediscovery of Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things" during the Renaissance, and how this rediscovery opened the door to modernity.  It is an interesting book, but I found the author's argument unconvincing.  As something of an Epicurean myself, I think "The Swerve" would have worked better as a commentary or appendix to Lucretius, and not as a work in its own right.

19. "I.O.U.S.A" by Addison Wiggin and Kate Incontrera **1/2

A primer on the ills of the U.S. economy.  Oversimplifies a great many issues, but this is the kind of book that more Americans ought to read.  This book makes frequent reference to another book, "Empire of Debt," that I'd like to read very much.  The second half of I.O.U.S.A consists of interviews with famous economists and other financial figures, and while it's more informative than the first half, it also proves the point that economists have trouble agreeing on anything and everything.