Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Book of Dave by Will Self

First sentence:

"Carl Devush, spindle-shanked, bleach blond, lampburnt, twelve years old, kicked up bluff puffs of sand with his bare feet as he scampered along the path from the manor."

Description:

"When East End cabdriver Dave Rudman's wife takes from him his ownly son, Dave pens a gripping text--a compilation about everything from the environment, Arabs, and American tourists to sex, Prozac and cabby lore--that captures all his frustrations and anxieties about his contemporary world. Dave buries the book in his ex-wife's Hampstead backyard, intending it for his son, Carl when he comes of age.

Five hundred years later, Dave's book is found by the inhabitants of Ham, a primitive archipelago in post-apocalyptic London, where it becomes a sacred text of biblical proportions and the template for a new civilization. Only one islander, Symum, remains incredulous. But, after he is imprisoned for heresy, his son Carl must journey through the Forbidden Zone and into the terrifying heart of New London to find the only thing that will reveal the truth once and for all: a second Book of Dave that repudiates the first.

Equal parts dystopian fantasy, religious allegory, detective story, and tribute to the sometimes fraught relations between fathers and sons, The Book of Dave is a profound meditation upon the nature of religion and a caustic satire of contemporary life." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

This was a complex and gripping book about family, madness, love and religion, with a new vocabulary to get used to from the beginning. At first, I wasn't sure I liked the book, but the story soon caught my interest and I wanted to learn more about Dave and the future inhabitants of Ham.

Date read: 4/25/2014
Book #: 14
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 1596911239
ISBN-13: 9781596911239
Publisher: Bloomsbury, USA
Year: 2006
# of pages: 416
Binding: Hardcover
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Stranger by Albert Camus

First sentence:

"Maman died today."

Description:

"Since it was first published in English, in 1946, Albert Camus's first novel, The Stranger (L'Etranger), has had a profound impact on millions of American readers. Through this story of an ordinary man who unwittingly gets drawn into a senseless murder on a sundrenched Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed 'the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.'

Now, in an illuminating new American translation, extraordinary for its exactitude and clarity, the original intent of The Stranger is made more immediate. This haunting novel has been given a new life for generations to come." -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

I liked this book set in 1940s Algeria. Mersault's isolation and indifference to others and his own fate was creepy and thought-provoking.

Book #: 13
Date read: 4/15/2014
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0679720200
ISBN-13: 9780679720201
Publisher: Vintage Books
Year: 1942; 1988 (this edition)
# of pages: 123
Binding: Trade Paperback
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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

First sentence:

"I keep the Beast running."

Description:

"Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life–something like his old life–exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return–not enough fuel to get him home–following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face–in the people he meets, and in himself–is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for." -- from peterheller.net

My thoughts:

I loved this story about starting again in a new world. There's joy and heartbreak, excitement and serenity. I liked Hig's interactions with Bangley and especially with his dog Jasper.

Date read: 4/13/2014
Book #: 12
Rating: 4*/5 = great
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0307950476
ISBN-13: 9780307950475
Publisher: Vintage
Year: 2013
# of pages: 336
Binding: Trade Paperback
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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Nine Tomorrows by Isaac Asimov

First sentence:

"George Planten could not conceal the longing in his voice."

Description:

"These unusual short stories, written by a master of science fiction, are nine uncanny glimpses into the not too distant future of earth people.

I'm in Marsport Without Hilda is a hilarious lesson in outer-space hipster slang conducted by three gangsters suspected of smuggling a vital tranquilizer drug from earth while their frantic interrogator longs for his rendezvous with Marsport's fanciest lady. All the Troubles of the World is the chilling tale of Multivac, the amazing machine that could solve every problem fed into it but the problems of its own humanity. The Ugly Little Boy, the final and longest story in this fine collection, is a subtle, brilliantly conceived study in terror -- as a young child is suddenly catapulted out of the dim reaches of the past to become the subject of a brutal scientific experiment.

Whatever their mood -- wryly humorous or grimly realistic -- these nine stories all reflect Isaac Asimov's masterful ability to combine scientific fact with the unpredictable, 'unscientific' actions of mankind. The collection is spiced with two superb stories in verse (an Asimov specialty) entitled I Just Make Them Up, See! and Rejection Slips." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this early collection of Asimov stories. I especially liked the stories about the supercomputer Multivac and the story "The Ugly Little Boy" about a lost boy far from home.

Date read: 4/1/2014
Book #: 11
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: SF

Publisher: Doubleday & Co
Year: 1959
# of pages:  236
Binding: Hardcover
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Friday, March 21, 2014

The Margarets by Sheri S Tepper

First sentence:

"Once a very long time ago, between fifty and a hundred thousand years, a small group of humans fleeing from predators took refuge in a cave."

Description:

"The myriad alien civilizations populating far, distant worlds have many good reasons to detest the blight called "humankind" . . .

The only human child living in a work colony on the Martian satellite Phobos, little Margaret Bain has invented six imaginary companions to keep boredom and loneliness at bay. Each an extension of her personality, they are lost to her when she is forced to return to Earth. But they are not gone.

The time will come when Margaret, fully grown and wed, must leave this dying world as well—this Earth so denuded by thoughtlessness and chemistry that its only viable export is slaves. For now Margarets are scattered throughout the galaxy. And their creator must bring her selves home . . . or watch the human race perish."  -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

I liked this book about identities and working with others to make a difference. While at times the plot was confusing to me, at the end, it all came together nicely. I especially liked the part when the "Margarets" met each other and learned where they each came from.

Date read: 3/20/2014
Book #: 10
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: SF

ISBN-10: 0061170690
ISBN-13: 9780061170690
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Year: 2009 (Reprint)
# of pages: 528
Binding: Mass Market Paperback
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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Saul Bellow's Heart by Greg Bellow

First sentence:

"On a visit to Chicago when I was eight, I witnessed a terrible argument, in Yiddish, between my father and grandfather."

Description:

In this warm, affectionate, yet strikingly honest memoir, Greg Bellow offers a unique look inside the life of his father, one of America’s greatest twentieth-century writers. Saul Bellow, the famous but fiercely private Nobel Prize winner, was known to be quick to anger and prone to argument, but he shared a tender bond with Greg, his firstborn.

In Saul Bellow’s Heart, Greg gives voice to a side of Saul unknown to most, the “young Saul”—emotionally accessible, often soft, with a set of egalitarian social values and the ability to laugh at the world’s folly and at himself. Saul’s accessibility and lightheartedness waned as he aged, and his social views hardened. This is the “old Saul” most well known to the world, and these changes taxed the relationship between Bellow and his son, now an adult, so sorely that Greg often worried that it wouldn’t survive. But theirs were differences of mind, not of the heart. Interweaving memories, personal stories, and autobiographical references in Saul’s books on which he can shed a unique light, Greg Bellow reveals himself to be a fine prose stylist and never shies away from the truth about his father.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this biography of Saul Bellow. Greg Bellow brings the reader behind the scenes, showing how Saul's life events portrayed in characters like Henderson, Herzog, etc. He also presents a candid look at relationships, especially regarding how they evolve over the years.

Date read: 3/15/2014
Book #: 9
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Biography

ISBN-10: 1608199959
ISBN-13: 9781608199952
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year: 2013
# of pages: 223
Binding: Hardcover
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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

First sentence:

"Harry was in his little house on the edge of Back Bay when at half past twelve her voice came over the radio for the first time."

Description:

Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he falls in love with a voice on air. He soon discovers that the real woman, Dido Paris, is even more than he imagined.

Dido and Harry are part of the cast of eccentric, beguiling characters who form an unlikely group of colleagues at the station. As summer progresses, we gradually discover their loves and longings, their professional and personal rivalries, the stories of their pasts and what brought each of them to the North. When four of them embark on a canoe trip into the Arctic wilderness, tracing the journey of the ill-fated Englishman John Hornby, their lives are altered, much as the balance of power in the North is being changed by the proposed Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline, which threatens to rip open the Arctic and displace Native people from their land.

Hay has a skewering intelligence about the frailties of the human heart. Weaving stories from the past into the present, she builds a fresh, erotic, darkly witty and moving tale, replete with sentences that will stop you dead because of

Elizabeth Hay has been compared to Annie Proulx, Alice Hoffman, and Isabel Allende, yet she is uniquely herself. With unforgettable characters, vividly evoked settings, in this new novel, Hay brings to bear her  and her ability to tell a spellbinding story. Written in gorgeous prose, laced with dark humour, Late Nights on Air is Hay’s most seductive and accomplished novel yet.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this book about people at a radio station in the Canadian North. I especially liked the interactions between the characters and the life-changing trip some of them make.

Date read: 3/11/2014
Book #: 8
Rating: 4*/5 = great
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0771040199
ISBN-13: 9780771040191
Publisher: Counterpoint
Year: 2008
# of pages: 364
Binding: Trade Paperback
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