I have been remiss in posting about the books I’ve been reading, my last one having been about thirteen months ago. Is it laziness? Is it the fact that nobody actually reads blogs anymore, so what’s the point? I dunno...
...but it’s as good a time as any to reflect on Booky World.
For better or worse, the Elisson Bookshelf is becoming increasingly virtual. I loves me my hardcovers, and there is nothing like the heft and feel of a good solid book in my hand... yet I find myself frequenting the Kindle store more and more as time flows by. Fact is, ever since the nearby Borders store folded, I use Amazon for most of my hardcopy purchases anyway, and the virtue of buying books in electronic form is that I get them delivered instantly, rather than having to wait (heavens!) as much as 48 hours for them to arrive. There is also something to be said for the ability to carry an entire library’s worth of books in one hand.
The Missus once noted that I have a habit of absentmindedly caressing the right edge of my books with a finger as I read them... a subconscious way of creating a certain tactile connection to whatever I’m reading, perhaps. Yet when I use my iPad to read, I do the exact same thing. Weird, eh?
Anyway, here are the books I’ve been reading lately, with the electronic ones marked with an asterisk...
- All Clear - Connie Willis
The sequel to Blackout, a story that uses the framing concept of Oxford historians equipped with time travel. Willis has set several novels in the Oxford world, including her Hugo and Nebula award-winning Doomsday Book. In All Clear, several historians from the mid-twenty-first century are dealing with the consequences of being marooned in London and its environs during the Blitz.
- Old Man’s War* - John Scalzi
The concept is simple: We need soldiers to fight our wars in Deep Space as Earth tries to extend its influence and territory... and lengthy life experience is a plus. So join the Army, get a new body, and if you survive all the horrors that the Universe throws at you for a couple of years, you get a place to homestead.
- Hope: A Tragedy, a Novel* - Shalom Auslander
Anne Frank is still alive... and living in Solomon Kugel’s attic in upstate New York.
- The Bones of Boulder Creek - S. H. McCord
A coming-of-age story written for young adults that is touching, heartfelt, and, in parts, gripping. A fine debut novel by (truth in advertising!) a personal friend.
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity - Katherine Boo
So you’re all pissed off because your Facebook pages take too long to load and the computer ate your latest status update? Read this book and then shut the fuck up: The peeps who live in the slums of Mumbai have waaaay more to complain about.
- A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism* - Harold Evans, Phyllis Goldstein
A semi-scholarly analysis of the world’s oldest hatred.
- Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef - Gabrielle Hamilton
A fascinating cheffy memoir.
- Angels of Vengeance - John Birmingham
The third book in the “After America” trilogy, in which most of the continental United States is instantaneously depopulated by a mysterious and never-explained energy field. Now, the country is rebuilding and the rest of the world is adjusting to the new reality... some of which is less than pleasant.
- Jar Jar Binks Must Die... and Other Observations about Science Fiction Movies* - Daniel M. Kimmel
Dan Kimmel, a fellow SF fan, is also a professional film critic whose opinion of Jar Jar Binks is comparable to mine.
- Steve Jobs* - Walter Isaacson
Biography of a man whose vision has changed (among other things) the way we buy and listen to music, watch movies, and even interact with one another. It was only appropriate that I read this book in electronic form on an iPad, a device that sprang from Jobs’s perfervid imagination.
- The Orphan Master’s Son: A Novel* - Adam Johnson
You cannot read this novel without coming away deeply changed. A powerful, painful portrait of life and lives in North Korea.
- Amped: A Novel* - Daniel H. Wilson
A novel that examines the social implications of medical device implantation... when the implanted devices don’t stop at curing certain neurological and mental disorders, but begin to give people physical and mental advantages over their fellow humans.
- Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas* - John Scalzi
What happens to the expendable guys in the teevee science fiction shows? And why?
- Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses - Bruce Feiler
Appropriately enough, I read most of this book while we traveled about in Israel.
- Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus* - Bill Wasik
An informative and fascinating treatise on a disease you really do not ever want to get.
- In One Person - John Irving
One of my favorite novelists takes on a new topic: transvestism. A sexually charged book that, like so many of Irving’s others, transports you into its characters’ lives and - just a little - breaks your heart.
- When General Grant Expelled the Jews - Jonathan D. Sarna
A scholarly little tome that examines General U. S. Grant’s Order Number 11, which expelled all the Jews in the territories under his command during the Civil War. A short-lived order that was only partially enforced before its almost immediate rescission by Washington, it was a stark contrast to the soon-to-be-issued Emancipation Proclamation. Despite Order Number 11 (and perhaps because of all he subsequently did to make up for it), Grant ended up becoming a beloved figure to the Jewish community of the day.
- Existence - David Brin
In a near-future world, artificial intelligence-enhanced devices dominate society... and a message is received from somewhere Out There. Full of Brin’s characteristic wordplay: When I read of Google’s new Glass, all I could think was, “Brin saw this coming... and his aiwear is here way sooner that anyone would have thought!”
- Mockingjay* - Suzanne Collins
The ongoing adventures of Katniss Everdeen in the dystopian, postapocalyptic world of Panem, and the final book of the trilogy. So I hadda read it, y’know?
- Understanding the Haftarot: An Everyperson’s Guide* - Rabbi Charles Simon
Essays that put the prophetical readings of Jewish liturgy into their historical and social context.
- Once We Were Brothers* - Ronald H. Balson
They were raised as brothers, but the Holocaust intervened... and changed their lives - and their relationship - forever.
- Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots - Deborah Feldman
Raised in the insular community of the Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn, Deborah Feldman eventually left everything she knew in order to pursue her own life. And her departure was... scandalous!
- American Gods* - Neil Gaiman
Gods need believers to survive. What happens when they are transplanted to a new land far from their various native soils?
- The Source* - James Michener
I hadn’t read a Michener novel in decades... but after our Israel trip, I was drawn to this fifty-year-old story set in a fictional community near Caesaria, in which Michener traces the evolution of Western religion and the historical underpinnings of the modern Jewish state.
- Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food* - Jon Krampner
After hearing the author being interviewed on the Bob Edwards show one morning, how could I not buy the book?
- Oranges* - John McPhee
John McPhee can take the most prosaic subject - here, the humble orange - and render it fascinating.
- Bowl of Heaven - Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
With the help of fellow hard-SF author Benford, Niven revisits the idea of Unusual Geometries in Space. Is it Ringworld? No, it’s... it’s... Bowlworld!
- Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us* - Michael Moss
A disturbing - but absolutely unsurprising - look at the way the companies that purvey Processed Food make their wares irresistible. Cakester, anyone?