Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Top 5 books of all time

A discussion in the comments of the previous post brought up Oprah, and her "top 5 books everyone has to read at least once" list (Lolita, Things Fall Apart, Waiting for Godot, The Wisdom of the Desert, and Four Quartets). Her list is, in our view, flawed. So in this post I would like to propose a new list.

Or at least, one possible list. This would of course change, probably daily, depending on mood. Oh well.

1. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
2. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
3. Brave New World, Aldus Huxley
4. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
5. The Odyssey, Homer

My thinking on this: five great books that have influenced our culture, representing a wide range of subjects, not all traditional "classics" but not all published recently either.

What's your list?

reading survey results

An article by the Associated Press published today says some interesting things about the way Americans read. Sadly, not many of the statements are surprising, and in fact many stereotypes are reinforced. Like:

Liberal democrats read more than conservative republicans.
Women read twice as much as men.
People with college degrees read more.
People who go to church read half as much as non-church goers.
Men prefer non-fiction.

Some interesting numbers:
Percentage of people who did not read a book last year: 27
Median number of books read: 4
Median number of books read by people who have read at least one book: 7 (9 for women, 5 for men)

One of the men quoted in the article says that if he wanted a story, he'd go to a movie. Personally, I read for the story most of the time. I'm not a big non-fiction reader, but I've enjoyed watching non-fiction television like nature, science, and history programs on public television. I find this interesting. Why would this be? Does the fact that I have ovaries mean that I am better equipped to endure hundreds of pages of story rather than watching a couple hours of action? And that I can't focus my pretty little head enough to read a book on airplanes? More likely this is a culturally influenced phenomenon along with the idea that girls don't like math and would prefer to write poetry and learn to play the piano.

And what's all this about the level of education and the church-going and the politics? You don't have to be smart to read, unless you can't read at all, of course. There are plenty of easy to read books out there. Maybe those with less education are having to work harder and don't have time to read at all. Although certain people (hi guys!) might talk about how much smarter liberals are, for example, I really don't want that to be the reason why conservatives read less. These numbers depress me. I mean, come on, I'd be happy if some statistic, somewhere, would contradict our assumptions about these things.

Or, maybe I've got it wrong all along. Maybe reading a lot isn't good. Maybe all this work we do to encourage lifelong literacy and book reading is a waste and we should just embrace other forms of entertainment and education. Maybe I'm just a tool for the book industry and its liberal atheistic immoral agenda.

Monday, August 13, 2007

War of the Flowers

Just finished War of the Flowers by Tad Williams. I'm kind of a sucker for him, so I was excited to see some books by him I hadn't read yet when I was at the bookstore the other day. This one is just one book; he tends to write multi-part epics, each volume being over 500 pages. Wordy. But, if you like sci-fi and fiction, he's quite fun to read, so I like the length.

This one is about a 30-year-old guy whose life is going horribly and then he's suddenly whisked off to an alternate world that's all fantastic and stuff. He gets all wrapped up in that world and its various societal changes and impending war, and it turns out that his help is needed to save the world! (surprise!) The whole time he's being pursued by evil forces, including an unstoppable "Terminator"-like creature.

Williams introduces many characters and plot thickeners, and deftly ties them all together. I felt like he did that perhaps too well in this book. As I approached the climax of the story, I realized there were still a couple plot thickeners he hadn't resolved yet... and lo! here they come to help resolve the story. So, I wasn't very surprised by the resolution. It was still satisfying though.

Pretty fun stuff, a long but swift read.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

so far behind

Sheesh, I have 19 books I still want to review that I've read this year. Here are some of them:

Doomsday Book - Connie Willis (time travel, historical fiction dark ages, depressing, highly recommended)
Bellwether - Connie Willis (scientist studying fads, light-hearted, recommended)
My Mother the Cheerleader - Robert Sharenow (young adult fiction, historical 50's segregated Alabama, recommended)
Mercy - Lara Santoro (American journalist in Africa, AIDS epidemic, fiction, eh, it was ok)
Wicked Lovely - Melissa Marr (dark "faery" story, kind of annoying but fun if you like vampire-type stories)
Napoleon's Pyramids - William Dietrich (action/thriller historical mystery. Macho protagonist, pointless use of math. Annoying. Not recommended unless you really like Indiana Jones and that hit novel about Jesus marrying Mary and having a kid.)
Rise of the Golden Cobra - Henry T. Aubin (young adult historical fiction about the ascendancy of Pharaoh Pianky. Not recommended unless you really really like Egypt, or are 12-year-old boy.)
Accordion Crimes - E. Annie Proulx (novel of short stories based on the lives of various immigrant families, loosely connected by possessing a certain accordion. Dense and at times tedious but extremely well written, recommended.)
Body of Lies - David Ignatius (novel by Washington Post columnist. How to fool a terrorist and advance the war on terror. Annoying if you are against the war since the author is able to instill fear in you and make you temporarily think the war is a good idea. Spies and CIA and men going around killing each other. Recommended if you liked "Syriana" the movie.)
Baboon - David Jones (boy turns into baboon after a plane crash. Excellent portrayal of the life of a baboon. recommended if you're into nature shows)
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (this book is now famous. Book group read it. Afghanistan, childhood memories, taking responsibility. Very good, recommended.)
Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand - Fred Vargas (French detective novel. Quite good actually. Interesting to see how the French and Canadians see each other)
Love, Meg - C. Leigh Purtill (young adult fiction, girl unhappy with her life writes letters to Jennifer Anniston. Hilarity ensues. Not really recommended unless you are a 15-year-old girl.)
Coal Black Horse - Robert Olmstead (young adult historical fiction about civil war. Boy searches for his father who is in the army and sees all sorts of horror. Recommended if you can stomach the gore.)
The One Where the Kid Nearly Jumps to His Death and Lands in California - Mary Hershey (young adult, boy with disability learns to stop being a jerk and feeling sorry for himself, recommended if you like coming of age novels)
The Plain Janes - Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg (young adult graphic novel, three girls named Jane deal with tragedy by doing renegade art, recommended)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Passage, by Connie Willis
780 pages
Published April 2001

This was my fourth Connie Willis book. (To Say Nothing of the Dog, Doomsday Book, Bellwether.) I really enjoy her writing. I'm starting to see some patterns that she uses, such as: annoying bureaucracies impeding progress, a certain annoying character that the protagonist has to avoid, scientific experiments, well-researched history, and a sense of urgency.

This book in particular is exceptionally good at creating a sense of urgency. In fact, it was so strong a sense that I couldn't resist reading at any possible moment. I read on the bus, during short little breaks at work, I even read while walking home from work one day. (Now that's challenging. Not sure I'll do that on a regular basis. It's especially challenging cause I wear distance glasses when I walk but I can't wear them when I read, so I was constantly having to remove my glasses to read and then put them on to see if any traffic was coming and what block I was on.)

Dr. Joanna Lauder is studying near-death experience phenomena. She interviews hospital patients who have clinically died and were revived. These patients frequently report having visions of tunnels, dead relatives, and a light. Although some are sure that this is a religious experience of the soul, Joanna wants to find the true reason behind it. She partners with another doctor, Richard Wright, to perform observed near-death experiences in the lab. Unlike the movie Flatliners (which they do refer to and scoff at in the book), the doctors do not induce death; rather they use certain hormones that are observed in the brain during near-death times to explore the effect of the hormones. As soon as the first volunteer reports on his induced experience, a race begins to find to the solution of the puzzling images he saw. Is it possible that they could find something that would help revive patients who have died? If so, can they find the solution in time to help a critically ill child that Joanna has befriended?

This book zooms between humor and pathos, it's fast-paced yet takes the time to explore minuscule details, uses modern medicine and technology yet has accurate depictions of historical events. At times I might almost call this a horror novel, other times it's an episode of your favorite medical drama, other times historical fiction. Very hard to pin down.

I recommend this book because even though I was a little disappointed by how it ended, I had such a blast while I was reading it that it was worth it. Would appeal to the scientifically-minded, problem solvers, or those who like medical mysteries.