sh1mm3r (sh1mm3r) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books 14-24 of 2010

14. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (359 pgs)
I had read several places that Bacigalupi was a lot like William Gibson, and I can see why those people drew the comparison, but I don't agree. To me, despite the interesting settings and scenarios Gibson writes, what draws me in are his characters with their strengths and quirky flaws. What makes Gibson great is where Bacigalupi flounders - there is no main character in this novel. You follow a series of characters throughout the book and although they are on opposing sides (sometimes in surprising ways) the writing doesn't engender any sort of loyalty to any of them.

I almost quit reading it twice, but the Windup Girl herself made an appearance at the end of chapter 3 and then again around pg 100. These were the most interesting spots, and I was eager to see what happened with her, and that kept me reading. The story does become less disjointed as the characters' stories start becoming intertwined. The ending was surprising in a good way, and I almost hope for a sequel, like maybe that was the stride he wanted to hit.

15. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre' (379 pgs)
This book is definitely a product of its time, when the spy game was an old boy's network, where manners almost mattered more than your alliances. Smiley is trying to find who the Soviet mole in the British "Circus," all the while dealing with the betrayal of his wife on a more personal level.

The second half of this book is far more entertaining than the second.

16. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby (406 pgs)
Like most Hornby, a good story, quick read, I won't remember it a month from now.

17. The Annotated Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott (239 pgs)
As a person who wished she'd gone past Calculus in math, and has even been known to read biographies of mathematicians, this was a great read. The annotated version is better than the original - so many little things explained and context added for more of it.

"What can it be to run against a Woman, except absolute and immediate destruction?"

"To be self-contended is to be vile and ignorant ... to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotently happy."

18. Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art ed. by Vincent Katz (328 pgs)
A beautiful, heavy book chronicling the story of Black Mountain College from several different perspectives. The Brody chapter on music had the best information on the early 1950s and the music created by Lou Harrison and John Cage that I've found anywhere.

19. The Arts at Black Mountain College by Mary Emma Harris (315 pgs)
A great capture of the history of the college. I'd like to add this to my personal collection.

20. A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Bloom (163 pgs)
Possibly the best short stories I've read - there is an amazing partnering of interesting situations and knowing the internal life of the characters. Touching and reflective.

21. A Palpable Elysium by Jonathan Williams (175 pgs)
A beautiful book of portraits, accompanied by anecdotes, poetry, and memories the author/photographer has from meeting the artists, poets, and composers he features in the pages. Most of them are connected to him in some way, most from the era when he was at Black Mountain College through the ten years afterwards. I had seen this book at the Black Mountain College Museum and was struck by it then, and enjoyed reading it more closely. The portraits, though, are the thing.

22. The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman (325 pgs)
Definitely not my favorite Hoffman so far. The themes are similar - women in the same family who are connected in strange ways, women who make bad decisions with men but are saved through somewhat magical ways, and sadness. But the story of the sisters seems to drag on, and the interesting parts (Madame Cohen and her story, Paris, and the grandmother Natalia) are minor in the scheme of things.

This could have been a lot tighter. I'm currently trying to find a recipe for Honesty Cake.

23. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (274 pgs)
"Intelligence and education that hasn't been tempered by human affection isn't worth a damn."

A cautionary tale from the 60s of what happens when you Mess With Science, told through the diary of Charlie who has an operation to improve his intelligence.

24. Away by Amy Bloom (240 pgs)
This story was unique, surprising, and the main character of Lillian Leyb was interesting and unpredictable. The ending threw me off a bit, but I liked how even as Lillian left different characters behind, Bloom would fill us in on their stories and endings.

I now have all of the rest of Bloom's work on my to-read list, and am still slogging through 2666.

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