book review: the mirror thief

I found Martin Seay’s The Mirror Thief in the course of helping a library user learn how to download ebooks. I grabbed it as a random example from our Mystery & Thriller category and the blurb intrigued me. It’s a three-timeline story about 1) a vet home from Afghanistan trying to find an old gambler friend of his father’s in 2003 Las Vegas, 2) a homeless teenage grifter looking for the poet who wrote a book he’s desperately trying to understand in 1950s California and 3) an alchemist in 1500s Italy arranging the theft of mirror-making artisans for the Hakemi Sultan in Constantinople.

The three settings (the Venetian, Venice Beach and Venice) felt distinct in style of story and language, but connect reasonably satisfactorily. It wasn’t mind blowing but it was entertaining.

book review: the break

The Break by Katherena Vermette is a multithreaded novel about a crime that takes place in Winnipeg. A young Native woman is attacked in the February night. There’s a witness who calls the police. So it’s a story about a crime, but it’s definitely not a procedural.

We get to know the family around the incident through a number of different viewpoints, including a couple of outsiders (a girl who’s escaped detention and a police officer). The story mostly takes place over less than a week, but is filled with flashbacks that give it a lot more depth than that.

It was a great book.

I often talk about how for me, the practical reason for reading fiction is to build empathy. If you get into the heads of people who are different from you, you help expand what your world can be, and it makes you better at understanding and helping people with different experiences from you. The Break is totally going to be my go-to example for that. Vermette gets us into heads really deftly and her descriptions were incisive and made me shudder. We feel for the weaknesses and we feel the strengths everyone shows.

It’s great. You should read it.

book review: the divide

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap is Matt Taibbi’s book about how economic inequality affects the American judicial system. How if you have huge amounts of money you will never go to jail but if you have no money you will be hounded by the police for walking down the sidewalk. It was incredibly depressing, but a good read (especially as a companion to Piketty’s Capital which was talking about how the wealth gap grows).

I don’t have the experience of getting thrown in the back of a police van for walking home from work as part of a commercial fishing approach to policing. I also don’t think that the laws should turn away from companies that steal and commit fraud just because there might be collateral consequences to the economy (which is something the Obama administration argued and has become part of banking prosecutions such as they are in the U.S.).

Part of the most depressing part of this book is that it was written in 2014, so pre-Trump. All the deportations and massive fraud investigations and fuckups that hugely and disproportionately affect poor americans, that was under Democrats. Trump deporting people isn’t new. Obama deported thousands and thousands by letting states use traffic stops to get immigrants into Immigration’s clutches. Yes the jackbooted thugs are ever more fascist, but it’s not like America has been a good place for non-white people before 2017-01-20.

Day #032 - Monkey Reader by Daniel Antunes CC-BY-NC-ND via flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/danielantunes/8435705107/

i used to review books here

I know my book reviews were never very in-depth or insightful, but they were here and were some content for the site for a big chunk of its existence. I don’t know exactly why I stopped doing it, but obviously, I did.

There’s part of me that feels a bit bad about not reviewing each book I read. These days it feels a little bit too much like my only purpose for reading is to consume content rather than letting things affect and change me. The sitting down and at least making a paragraph about each book does help to consolidate thoughts I have. But it takes so much energy, and I probably have another book a flick away at on my screen.

I could argue a big chunk of my “making stuff about library adjacent topics” energy went into the radio show over the last year, but I’d let the reviews trail off well before that. Now with the new job and not doing the radio show any more, maybe there’s room to come back at this again.

In any case, I have been studiously tracking what I’ve been reading even if I haven’t been spewing my thoughts on it at whatever reading audience I still might have. Here’s the list of books I read in 2016. I might finish another Dark Tower book and this little treatise on crime in Canadian football before the year is up but whatevs. (formatting key: ebooks comics rereads)

  1. Elric of Melniboné (The Elric Saga, #1) by Michael Moorcock
  2. Delta Green: Dark Theatres by Benjamin Adams (Ed.)
  3. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin
  4. Delta Green: Through a Glass, Darkly by Dennis Detwiller
  5. The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson
  6. Oblivion by David Foster Wallace
  7. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  8. The Weird of the White Wolf (The Elric Saga, #3) by Michael Moorcock
  9. The Vanishing Tower (The Elric Saga, #4) by Michael Moorcock
  10. Stormbringer (The Elric Saga, #6) by Michael Moorcock
  11. The Bane of the Black Sword (The Elric Saga, #5) by Michael Moorcock
  12. Trashed by Derf Backderf
  13. This Census-Taker by China Miéville
  14. Slade House by David Mitchell
  15. Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed
  16. The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
  17. The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave
  18. The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham
  19. Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1) by Connie Willis
  20. The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson
  21. Schild’s Ladder by Greg Egan
  22. Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, #1) by Neal Stephenson
  23. How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
  24. The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, #2) by Neal Stephenson
  25. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
  26. The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, #3) by Neal Stephenson
  27. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
  28. The City & the City by China Miéville
  29. Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film by Patton Oswalt
  30. Adventure Time: Marceline Gone Adrift by Meredith Gran
  31. Buddhism in Chinese History by Arthur F. Wright
  32. The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow
  33. The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
  34. Thirst: A Novel of the Iran-Iraq War by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
  35. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
  36. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  37. The Library at Mount Char by Scott  Hawkins
  38. A Hanging at Cinder Bottom by Glenn Taylor
  39. The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga, #1) by Kameron Hurley
  40. The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald
  41. Joe Golem and the Drowning City: An Illustrated Novel by Mike Mignola
  42. Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack
  43. The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami by Matthew Carl Strecher
  44. The Quarry by Iain Banks
  45. Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier
  46. Wicked and Weird: The Amazing Tales of Buck 65 by Rich Terfry
  47. In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
  48. Two Brothers by Fábio Moon
  49. Writing for Radio by Christopher William Hill
  50. Bone by Jeff Smith
  51. The Dharma Punks by Ant Sang
  52. Beef With Tomato by Dean Haspiel
  53. Batman: Ego and Other Tails by Darwyn Cooke
  54. Dracula: The Company of Monsters Vol. 1 by Kurt Busiek
  55. Dracula: The Company of Monsters Vol. 2 by Kurt Busiek
  56. A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
  57. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  58. Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue
  59. A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-Fiction by Terry Pratchett
  60. The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth
  61. Going Postal (Discworld, #33; Moist von Lipwig, #1) by Terry Pratchett
  62. Absolute Transmetropolitan Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis
  63. A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims
  64. Descender, Volume One: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire
  65. How to Be Both by Ali Smith
  66. Absolute Transmetropolitan Vol. 2 by Warren Ellis
  67. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  68. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  69. H. P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition: The Master of Horror’s Influence on Modern Occultism by John L. Steadman
  70. Imperium by Ryszard Kapuściński
  71. The Starry Rift by James Tiptree Jr.
  72. The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1) by Stephen King
  73. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
  74. The Player of Games (Culture, #2) by Iain M. Banks
  75. How to Change the World: Marx and Marxism 1840-2011 by Eric Hobsbawm
  76. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
  77. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig
  78. Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis
  79. Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
  80. Empire Ascendant (Worldbreaker Saga, #2) by Kameron Hurley
  81. The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead
  82. Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers
  83. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
  84. The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis
  85. Jaws by Peter Benchley
  86. Pretty Deadly, Vol. 2: The Bear by Kelly Sue DeConnick
  87. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
  88. The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy by J. Takakusu
  89. Hunter’s Run by George R.R. Martin
  90. Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden
  91. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
  92. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  93. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
  94. A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
  95. The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin
  96. The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower, #2) by Stephen King
  97. The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower, #3) by Stephen King
  98. The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1) by Liu Cixin
  99. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  100. The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2) by Liu Cixin
  101. Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3) by Liu Cixin
  102. The Slow Regard of Silent Things (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2.5) by Patrick Rothfuss
  103. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
  104. Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, #4) by Stephen King
  105. The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2) by N.K. Jemisin
  106. American Utopia by Fredric Jameson
  107. Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling by Tom Babin
  108. Sex Criminals, Volume Three: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
  109. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1) by Becky Chambers
  110. The Revolutions by Felix Gilman

So yeah, I read 110 books this year. There are fewer comics on here than I feel is usual for me but there’s a fair number of re-reads. Those both kind of inflate the totals if you’re looking at this as a numbers game.

I’ve been trying to read more nonfiction and I think that kind of shows up in the list. I’ve also been trying to read more books by women, but as the list shows, I haven’t been successful at that (a quick perusal shows only 18 or 19). Under a bit of duress I’ve been buying fewer books than is my wont (only 6 from this list are things I purchased this year) but as my partner tells me, I do work in a library.

That’s been my year. I also read too many tweets and articles about politics and celebrities dying. Fuck 2016.

booklog summary: august/september 2013

Every so often I get far enough behind in my book blogging I just declare bankruptcy and start fresh. This is one of those times. Here’s what I’ve read since my last book review:

  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller: Good post-apocalypse stuff. Realistic but not too depressing.
  • Time and the Batman by Grant Morrison: Kind of bullshit. Can’t remember why.
  • Zoo Station by David Downing: A cold war spy novel set in Berlin. I think I’ve now conflated an article I read by LeCarre into the plot, but I liked it.
  • Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire: Good rough early work, but man is his current stuff ever better.
  • Poor Yorick by Ryan North: Good, but not as crazy as To Be or Not To Be, which is gonads-out amazing and will get its own review.
  • 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa: I loved this 22 volume manga, even if the end is a little abrupt.
  • Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin: It took me forever to read this book, but that’s just because it’s oppressive and painful like the history it’s based on.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Really good. Different from Mechanique, more grown-up, but I can’t hold that against it.
  • The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno: Not as Encyclopedia Brown grows up as I wanted deep in my heart, but still more than decent.
  • The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling: Kidbrarian confession time. Before September I’d only read the first Harry Potter book and only knew the rest of them through Wikipedia. I have rectified that (and think the Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite) (and was a little chagrinned that my MBTI says I’m Hermione when I wanted to be Sirius Black).
    Harry Potter MBTI chart

    Harry Potter MBTI – makani.deviantart.com | simbaga.tumblr.com

  • The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter: The earlier stuff was more interesting before it got to the states.
  • The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson: A sort of post apocalyptic noir thing in a similar vein to Gun Machine, but not quite as good. Still decently readable.
  • Sorry, Please, Thank You: Stories by Charles Yu: Very good George Saunders-esque short stories. Highly recommended.
  • Penguin: Pride and Prejudice by Gregg Hurwitz: A comic depicting Gotham’s Penguin as a tragic villain. Much better than I expected, but not amazing.
  • The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge: I love love love the Tines (pack mind aliens. The story was fine but the politics got me angry. Totally worth it if you’ve read A Fire Upon the Deep.
  • By the Balls: Jim Pascoe & Tom Fassbender: Noir stories set in Nevada in the late-90s. Good pulpy stuff.

The last book I read is one I really liked and will get a full review later this week.

books review: dead mothers, the gravel in your guts, high lonesome (scalped vols. 3,4,5)

Last week I found three volumes (Dead Mothers, The Gravel in your Guts, & High Lonesome) of Jason Aaron’s Scalped on the library shelf and delved into them for a few hours. They’re the middle of the story so you’d want to start with Indian Country to make any sense of what’s going on.

The rest of this is less about these books and about how conflicted I am in liking them. So Scalped is a contemporary crime story set on a South Dakota First Nations Reserve. It’s brutal and violent and I’m a little wary of really loving it because there’s a lot of potential for it being totally racist. Or if not racist, at least unhelpful.

A few months ago at a local writers festival we had a first nations poet talk about her work and one of the things she talked about was that first nations people should tell first nations stories. That’s not something for white people to do. In the larger cultural milieu, Spike Lee took Quentin Tarantino to task for Django Unchained, because slavery wasn’t Tarantino’s history to talk about (Jesse Williams has a great essay about the problems with Django, which you should totally read).

At our writers festival people in the audience were disgruntled that this woman would be telling us that there are some stories we cannot tell. I completely get that disgruntlement. I have long held the idea that freedom of expression means that I can write about whatever the hell I want and deal with the consequences, and fuck anyone who tells me what is and isn’t appropriate for me to do. But I’ve been coming around to see how privileged a point of view that is, and how voices from the dominant culture telling those stories crowds out the voices telling it from the inside. You really don’t want people to be learning their American history from Django Unchained.

The thing is that I really like Scalped. I love the small-scale politics and the way people with scraps of power interact with the immovable force of the US government, and how Dashiell Bad Horse is tearing himself apart to do this job between two worlds. It’s a great story. Just one that makes me feel guilty for liking it, because I haven’t sought out neo-noir stories written by first nations people themselves. Scalped is easy because it’s published by DC Comics, and I haven’t gone beyond that easy corporate mass-media approach.

Anyway, if you like crime stories, and all of my hand-wringing hasn’t put you off, Scalped is definitely worth your time.

book review: gun with occasional music

Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, With Occasional Music is a scifi noir story very heavy on the noir. In a world with uplifted kangaroos and apes and accelerated-development babies, Conrad Metcalf is trying to solve a murder. And then another and another. He’s an ex-cop and has his custom drugs to keep him feeling the exact right level of ennui and tenacity, while the victims and witnesses take drugs to forget. It’s pretty great.

One of the things I really like about the book is the dual economic systems going on. There’s money and there’s karma. Karma is what the cops take away when you do bad things, and what you get given when you’re a model citizen. It’s a bit more centralized than Cory Doctorow’s Whuffle but you can see the connective strands. The thing is that when your karma hits zero you go into a freezer, and are removed from society for a while, which makes my favourite part of the book possible.

[SPOILERS] About 3/4 of the way through the book Conrad pisses off enough people he gets tossed in the freezer for six years. This is awesome for the story because when he gets out it’s like that time passed overnight. He’s even more dogged about solving his case now that everyone else has had years to deal with the aftermath. [/SPOILERS]

So yes, definitely recommended especially if you liked George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Falls