Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More books

Inspired by a temporary (I hope) writing slump and a friend's new book review blog...

Five books I've read since the last reading post:

5. New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond. I just finished this one tonight, about a month after I started it. If you're interested in contemporary short fiction, this is a good starting place--it's accessible, and I was only rarely tempted to skip a story. When I've read other selections of short stories, they sometimes felt too abrupt, but these stories are paced well and feel complete.

4. Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil, Deborah Rodriguez. I wouldn't have picked up this book if I hadn't heard the author speaking at a literary festival I went to. I was impressed with the good humor and (com)passion with which she spoke about Afghanistan, where she initially went to do humanitarian work and ended up opening a beauty school and finding a sisterhood within its wall. The book's not an in-depth study of the culture (indeed, her cultural blunders are a frequent motif), nor is it particularly literary. It is, however, heartfelt. It provides a human face beyond the news images of burkas and AK-47s.

3. Tree By Leaf, Cynthia Voigt. Sometimes it just doesn't work so well to try and visit authors favored in one's adolescence. That's all.

2. Re-Birth (or The Chrysalids), John Wyndham. Sci fi rec from my boss. Classic motif of the society suspicious of mutation, with religious fundamentalism and evolution tossed in for good measure. (No, it's not about my home state, Kansas.) Some cataclysm, likely nuclear, has set society back, and mistrust of difference has been codified into religion, with any aberration considered a Blasphemy against God Himself to be banished to the wild Fringe. Against this backdrop, the protagonist has discovered he has the ability to communicate telepathically, a difference that naturally incurs the persecution of both him and the handful of others who also have the ability. In their flight, they learn more about the people in the Fringe and the people from further beyond, who each present a different definition of what it means to be in God's image, i.e. normal. Perhaps it was the young characters and the coming-of-age aspect, but this had the feel of YA fiction. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.

1. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein. Another rec from my boss. This one takes place in 2075 (I'm pretty sure), when the moon has, much like Australia, been colonized initially as a penal colony. Like America, though, the "Loonies" have started to bristle beneath the colonial yoke. Protagonist Man, a computer engineer, finds himself drawn into planning a revolution along with firebrand revolutionary Wyoming (who, in typical fashion, starts out as a strong and independent woman and ends up taking a back seat...), a has-been professor, and a sentient computer with a sense of humor, Mike. The politics are intricate, the society's customs fascinating, the technology impressive (seriously, the NSA has nothing on Mike's capabilities), and the humor dry ("Never explain computers to laymen," Man says at one point, "Easier to explain sex to a virgin."). In typical English-major fashion, I was intrigued by the protagonist's syntax. In short, there's a little something for every reader in this one, although I will give a heads-up: this was, for whatever reason, a time-consuming read.

Now playing: The (International) Noise Conspiracy - Guns for Everyone
via FoxyTunes

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