Good afternoon and welcome back to Recommended Reading! I’ve been putting this post off all month. Now, my current short story is resting between drafts; I’m going to be hiding at home from a cold front for twenty-four hours; and I’m making myself do some writing before I start playing Octopath Traveler. It’s the perfect moment to talk about the best books we read last year.
According to Goodreads, I read around thirty-two novels last year. Here are the titles that stood out to me, in no particular order. (Many of them were recommendations by y’all, so thanks!)
- The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks
This was my first foray into the Culture books. Interesting universe, great starship names, fun story.
- The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi
Many authors fail to find the line between telling you just enough and being too obscure; Rajaniemi is not one of them. The Quantum Thief is a richly imaginative and wonderfully-wrought heist story.
- A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge
This was one of the best attempts I’ve read at writing from the perspective of an alien.
- The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
A science-fiction classic for a reason; incidentally one of William Gibson’s favorite novels.
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
Absolutely brilliant characters. Looking forward to my next foray into this universe.
What did you read last year that you loved?
I am not exactly following directions, because I haven’t read these yet, but did you know The Library of America has issued a set of two books of 1950s classics? The 1953-56 book has The Space Merchants, More Than Human, The Long Tomorrow, and The Shrinking Man. 1956-58 has Double Star, The Stars My Destination, A Case of Conscience, Who?, and The Big Time. Next year they are supposed to publish a selection from the 1960s.
Actually I have read some of these, but not since the 1950s.
hells littlest angel
Monnglow by Michael Chabon. The wild, barely-believable story of his grandfather’s life, told in a style at once erudite and conversational. This is the first thing I’ve read by Chabon; won’t be the last.
Dorothy A. Winsor
I loved Markus Zusak’s A Bridge of Clay, the story of 5 brothers whose mother dies and father leaves, but then comes home. I’m always a sucker for brother stuff. You may remember Zusak for The Book Thief.
Madeline Miller’s Circe and Song of Achilles, retellings of Greek myth in our current realistic novel style.
Fredrick Backman’s Beartown and Brit-Marie Was Here. Beartown is about a junior hockey team in a town in Sweden. The town lives and dies by this team, so when a star player is accused of sexual assault, things get ugly. Brit-Marie Was Here is about an older woman trying to find herself after her husband leaves. Backman is one of my favorite writers.
Fonda Lee’s Jade City. A secondary world fantasy in which jade gives power to some people who can handle it. Gang wars ensue. It’s so well done.
ETA: Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. Holy cow, that was well done.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. Not my usual genre. So I always brushed aside recommendations. My bad.
Dorothy A. Winsor
@hells littlest angel: I tried Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union and bounced off it hard. It’s been a long time, but I recall it being stylized and slow. I am a barbarian.
Major Major Major Major
@TaMara (HFG): I loved that one but I haven’t read it in a long time. Probably should before the teevee show.
The Vinge, Banks and Bester novels are excellent. You’ll probably want to read “A Fire Upon the Deep” before reading “Deepness in the Sky”. The Banks Culture novels are worth reading, “Player of Games” is probably my favorite in the whole series. I haven’t read any of the others, but they are on my wishlist now. Thanks for the recommendations.
For a fun read, I’ve been working my way through the Cormoran Strike series that J.K. Rowling writes under the name of Robert Galbraith. I’m on the third of four books so far. Totally different world from Harry Potter but still very good stories with very vivid characters, especially Strike and his assistant, Robin. If you enjoy a good detective novel, you’ll enjoy these.
I also am really enjoying a fictional autobiography of Elizabeth I by Margaret George. She’s done a few of these, notably one on Henry VIII and one on Cleopatra. Her history is pretty good and it’s a fun way to try to get into the heads of these bigger than life characters.
While traveling for the Christmas holidays, we listened to Foundryside on audiobook. We really liked it. It is fantasy with a cyberpunk feel (because of the use of hard magic). In fact, there have been several essays recently on how cyberpunk is obsolete as a genre, so fantasy is a natural way to resurrect its tropes.
Mike in NC
“Everything Trump Touches Dies” by Rick Wilson. Yeah, he’s a bit of a dickhead but the book was funny.
The best thing I’ve read recently is the MurderBot Diaries by Martha Wells. It’s a sequence of four novellas (novellae?) narrated by a partly-organic, partly-bionic creature called a SecBot. A SecBot’s job is to protect humans and provide security for human expeditions– and MurderBot does that, but… is a very unusual SecBot. And you should read the four parts in order. The first one is ‘All Systems Red’.
Also, I’ve read Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, which is excellent. Inspired by the Rumplestiltskin tale.
I’ve been listening to books on CD this last year while on my way to and from work. I’ve never been so disconnected from the news and that was the point. Currently I’ve been listening to the amazing Jim Dale narrate the Harry Potter series. Just getting to the appropriately dark parts of the series.
Our public library online system has a wonderfully easy tool to use to save lists of ‘must read’ books. All of the above are going on my list.
Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Liu Cixin. Extremely imaginary while grounded in hard sci fi. Interesting perspective from a major Chinese writer
Major Major Major Major
I do love a good cynical, hard-bitten urban fantasy novel.
This past year I reread James Blish’s science fiction short story, A Work of Art. It is about the reanimation of composer Richard Strauss, who composes a final opera and then again fades away, himself having been the work of art of his reanimators. What makes it special to me, and what made it special when I first read it some 45 years ago, is Blish’s deep knowledge of and affection for Strauss, whose music, character and sense of humor he captures remarkably well.
Dorothy A. Winsor
@Walker: I read Foundryside while were in Florida last week. It’s well written with a developed magic system and characters that come alive.
I’m rereading (last read about 30 years ago) Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. It is just as good as I remember. Dazzling writing and funny as hell. I recommend Zelazny to anyone.
Just One More Canuck
Erebus by Michael Palin
@Major Major Major Major:
This past year I enjoyed The Twisted Path: A Twenty Palaces Novella, by Harry Connolly. The Twenty Palaces series (starting with Child of Fire) is urban fantasy in that vein, I think–the narrator is an ex-con; magical creatures are predators; spells are not for children.
@geg6: I just read through them last year. Found them fascinating. Rowling is the definition of versatile. About as far as you can get from Harry Potter & Magic. Very dark and gritty.
If you haven’t read Iain Banks “Matter” and “Excession,” those two are tops. Both are Culture novels.
I liked “Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet,” but have been disappointed in Becky Chambers since.
The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker. A fictionalzed true story of an unlikely family man who was involved in the resistance in Nazi Germany. Makes the reader feel and understand how so much of life then was lived in great fear and simple joy.
Chabon: I loved The Yiddish Policement’s Union and have read it several times. Just goes to show how true “different strokes for different folks” is. Liked Moonglow and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay but not enough to reread them. Others of Chabon’s that I’ve tried didn’t grab me at all and I didn’t finish them, including Telegraph Avenue, but I may try that one again someday.
Backman: A Man Called Ove was wonderful — one of those books that make you (well, me) laugh out loud while the tears are coming at the same time. Resisted My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry because I started it and didn’t like the Britt-Marie character, then gave it another chance and liked it a lot, along with Britt-Marie Was Here. Just started Us Against You and am finding the style very difficult, but I haven’t read Beartown, so maybe I should do that first.
Celeste Ng: Read both of her novels this year: Everything You Never Told Me and Little Fires Everywhere. Found them both haunting, especially Little Fires. They’re very similar, so I’m curious to see what she’ll do next, i.e. whether she can write more than one kind of story.
Louise Penny: Her latest Gamache mystery, Kingdom of the Blind was good as always. If you like mysteries and haven’t encountered Penny, start at the beginning with Still Life. (Sweet story: Hillary Clinton is a Penny fan and wrote her a letter of condolence when Penny’s husband died a couple of years ago. Then they met and became friends, whatever that means for famous people. My daughter and I went to a Penny book launch in Quebec in the summer of 2017 and the Clintons had been visiting the week before. You could hardly turn around without encountering that information. :-)
Monica Wood: I reread One in a Million Boy, almost surely not for the last time. Another laughs/tears gem. Her memoir When We Were the Kennedys is also good.
P.S. When is David Mitchell going to publish another novel? He put one away in some vault where it will be hidden for a hundred years. That does me no good whatsoever. ;-)
@hells littlest angel:
Moonglow was great. I think his best (so far) is Kavalier and Clay.
I just looked through my 2018 books on Goodreads. Other than Tommy Orange’s There, There, there really wasn’t much that grabbed me. Most of my favorite writers have either died or retired, and I’m not having a lot of success in finding replacements. I just ordered Devotions (Mary Oliver) which will keep me busy for quite a while.
Two series well worth your time: Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. Both have richly imagined settings that aren’t your typical fantasy worlds. Jemisin’s three books each won the Hugo Award. Both are highly recommended.
I started Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman last year. I’m enjoying it — only able to read in short bursts these days.
I got Becoming for Christmas and I’m looking forward to reading it.
@Major Major Major Major:
I’m doing the opposite. The cyberpunk book I’m writing has a whole counterculture using the highest tech available to fake magic and being elves and so on. The book is a lot of fun to write. I figured kids today should be introduced to how goofy 80s retrofuturism really is.
Forgot one: A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. It starts slow, so much so that my best reading friend gave up on it. But I had been warmed to get past fifty or so pages before deciding, and in the end I liked it a lot. It goes on a list I’m keeping that includes several David Mitchells, both the Ng novels I mentioned above, and peripherally The One in a Million Boy — all stories that include a certain motif involving parents and children that’s not obviously central to the stories, but for me a powerful gut punch.
Becoming is very good. As I read, I could hear her voice. I found it very comforting.
Oh a plug for the University of Chicago Library. In the first of every month they send a link to download an ebook. Usually very interesting and subjects relevant to current events. It’s free!
I loved Becky Chambers’ next novel “A Closed and Common Orbit,” and apparently others did too:
While I was looking it up to see if I remembered the name right, I found that a third one, Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers Book 3), came out last month! I had no idea, so thanks for a find to put on my list.
Comforting is good.
Seconded. The Cormoran Strike books are on the edge of being too gritty (read: bloody) for me, but I’ve enjoyed them. The other thing about Rowling is that she’s utterly amazing at making you want to keep turning pages.
Red Notice by Bill Browder
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
All The Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault and They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded by James Alan Gardner. Fun superhero world-building and story. Lot’s of comic book references and trope justifications that entertains comic-nerd me greatly.
If you like heady sci-fi, Lady of Mazes, Karl Schroeder, 2006, tackles head-on realities (in some regions fully personalized) mediated by technology.
Of the characters, I only really remember (after 12 years) the narrator, who had a distinctive pattern of thoughts.But it’s worth a try just for the treatments of the various world-narratives, both shared and personalized.
Dorothy A. Winsor
@JanieM: I liked Beartown more than Us Against You, and I would read it first. They’re interesting because Backman violates the “rules” about how we’re supposed to write these days and uses an omniscient narrator. “What is a team?” he asks at one point. It worked for me.
This is How it Always is by Laurie Frankel
Beautiful story of a family raising a transgender child, written in prose that feels like a fairytale but with rich and deep emotional themes.
I read out loud to my husband as he cooks. We enjoyed The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, and are now enjoying Becoming — it’s extremely well written and engaging. Before bed I do Trollope as a way of getting unspeakable political stuff out of my mind, and am finishing Doctor Thorne right now — it’s lots of fun.
I disagree. “A Fire Upon the Deep” was written before “A Deepness in the Sky” but is chronologically much much later.
I tend to think that reading Fire first would spoil a bunch of the mysteries of Deepness.
I agree with everything else you said.
Of course Doctor Thorne should be in italics. It’s a book, not a person I enjoy before bed!
Agree with @Dorothy A. Winsor – I wanted to love Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but it was all concept and no sizzle (to massacre multiple metaphors). Chabon at his best is fabulous, but some of his books just don’t resonate with me, including his debut novel. In that sense, he reminds me of T. Coraghessan Boyle (local Los Angeles boy made good), who has written some of my favorite novels, but it also responsible for some half-finished paperbacks gathering dust on an end table.
I just reread “The Stars my Destination” in a Library of America SF 50’s collection. Get it in the perfect bound acid free LOA edition.
@Dorothy A. Winsor: I had the same response. I thought it was me!
In other news, It took me a couple weeks to get through David Blight’s new biography of Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom. (912 pp!) Worth it!
Also read Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. (960 pp !)
I seem to working my way through the doorstops. (But good ones.) A bunch of crappy books that ruled out some book groups… Others no doubt. Comfort books include the perennial Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale: the Life of Martha Ballard.
@Dorothy A. Winsor: I’ll give Beartown a try. I don’t think it’s the omniscient narrator’s voice per se that put me off, but rather the…..not sure what the right word is…..preachy/pontificating tone. Also the skipping around in time. But I’ve had the experience before of not getting into a book, then trying it later and liking it a lot. Black Swan Green and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell are examples, and all of Louise Penny, for that matter. Someone suggested A Beautiful Mystery to me, and it put me off trying any others for several years. Then for some reason I started from the beginning and read all of them, and discovered that A Beautiful Mystery was my least favorite. So it hadn’t been a great choice for getting acquainted with her writing.
@Joe: Besides that MMMM just said he already did read A Deepness in the Sky, I’m with Tarragon in thinking it makes sense to read Fire second: not so much for plot reasons, but because Fire is a much larger-scale adventure story and if you pick up Deepness expecting more of the same—as I did—it could be a little jarring. In any case, they’re both great. I think Deepness also has one of the best depictions I’ve seen of what an evil mind-control technology might actually be like, and how people would rationalize the use of it.
@Bex: Have you read Alone in Berlin? recommended.
I read so many good books last year! I only read about 20 books a year.
I read Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education by Noliwe Rooks which is about how black students have gotten the short end of the stick in public education since the beginning of their ability to get educated in schools. It talks about how there would be only a few school districts that took the students. It is critical how the Teach for America program is about white college grads gaining experience by not really providing minorities a good education because they are generally unprepared.
I read Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI about how the Osage Indians who were very wealthy due to oil wealth on their land started to die off under mysterious circumstances. This was excellent.
I read Educated by Tara Westover about growing up as a homeschooler in a fringe Mormon community in Idaho. When she was accepted to study abroad, she had to go to ridiculous lengths to get a passport because no one remembered when she was born. She was born at home, and no one had bothered to get her a birth certificate.
I also read N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy which was good fantasy, but it was hard to watch characters suffer this year.
Parable of The Sower
By Oliver Butler
Read it and weep
A Unit of Water, A Unit of Time,
Joel White’s Last Boat.
by Douglas Whynott,
A portrait of Joel White’s last days, measured in boat time, with reflections on his son, Steve White, and his father, E. B. White.
Beneath Flanders Fields,
The Tunneller’s War, 1914-1918
By Peter Barton, Peter Doyle and Johan Vandewalle.
Mining, countermining, deep shelters in the Vimy Bulge, and the great explosions of the Messine Ridge campaigns.
@Mathguy: Was going to post on same! N. K. Jemisin can write a heavy page, there were times I would get done with a chapter and think, WHAT the hell just happened? And go back to re-read. Totally worth it.
James E Powell
I’ve been reading a lot of “cop who doesn’t fit in” crime books and really enjoyed the first three books of Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series. What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 by Joseph Roth. The Templars, by Dan Jones. The Inheritance of Rome, by Chris Wickham.
I also did quite a bit of re-reading favorites because I’m teaching AP Lit this year. Too many to list, all very good stuff.
Second the nominations of A Gentleman in Moscow and the two by Gardner (All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault and They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded). I was a bit disappointed by the very last chapter of Gentleman, but overall found it delightful. I expect at least two more volumes in the Gardner series, one for each of the other two young ladies, and very much look forward to them.
Chambers is fun, but she makes some absolutely appalling scientific blunders. The characters are interesting enough to make up for them though.
On the nonfiction side, the best thing I read last year was David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here, about the reconstruction of ancient history via DNA studies. He warns that the field is in rapid flux and everything he says is subject to revision, which has already happened as regards one of his more interesting speculations, but it’s still a very good book.
The two Library of America SF volumes coming out this year include The High Crusade, Way Station, Flowers for Algernon, and …And Call Me Conrad (first volume; I assume FfA is the novel version), and Past Master (R. A. Lafferty), Picnic on Paradise (Joanna Russ), Nova (Delany), and Emphyrio (Jack Vance). They’re also putting out the Author’s Expanded Version of Le Guin’s Always Coming Home.
Major Major Major Major
Oh for sure.
@Starfish: “I also read N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy which was good fantasy, but it was hard to watch characters suffer this year.” But it is the best fantasy ever written, so you just bite the bullet and take one for the team.
I read very little last year due to illness, and I’m hoping to do differently this year. However, I did get in the habit of writing a fair amount about whatever I did read. The links below are to longer reviews if anyone’s curious.
Too Like the Lightning and Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer (2016-2017): First half of an in-progress SF series that I have really mixed feelings about, but I can’t help being impressed by the dense strangeness of these books. Palmer is a historian who clearly (based on these, and also I’ve heard her talk) has always wanted to write SF and approached it by throwing in the kitchen sink; there’s some fairly confusing world-building, some very mixed messages about traditionalism and gender and utopia, one of the least sympathetic narrators ever, and a completely bonkers fantasy element. I’m honestly not sure whether I would recommend these, but I think Palmer is one to watch. Also, if you ever get a chance to see her speak on any subject, do so—she’s hilarious.
Harry Clarke by David Cale (2017). This is cheating because I listened to it instead of reading, but it’s a really good play.
Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano (2007). Unusually personal journalism about organized crime in southern Italy (the basis for a movie of the same name, which is also good). Pretty grueling. The translation isn’t great.
We Who Are About To… by Joanna Russ (1978). I’ve been meaning to read Russ since forever and this might not have been the best place to start, but it’s unforgettable. The bleakest possible take on a popular science fiction scenario, and on humanity in general.
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (1934). The new movie reminded me that I had never read any of these. Really odd and delightful.
The Hunger by Whitley Strieber (1981). I just got curious about the basis for the movie and I’ve liked a little of Strieber’s writing before, but oh boy this is not good. It is the most ’80s thing possible.
Dorothy A. Winsor
@James E Powell: I love the Sean Duffy series! I especially like the little glimpses of history–DeLorean opening the factory, Ali visiting Belfast, etc.
??? Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) ??
So this is totally OT, but that Covington Catholic MAGAt totally looked Joey Logano.
A plug for two older books by Peter Watts, Blindsight and Echopraxia. Great aliens, future societies–shared mind/group mind–and a fascinating explanation for the evolutionary dead end that was vampirism.
I’m almost done with the fourth one. Love these.
@elspi: Jemisin is definitely next on my list as soon as I finish a couple of books I’m in the middle of.
@Jim Parish: Wow, that Library of America list is not bad at all. If I had more space on my shelves I would probably pick them up, even the ones I’ve read before.
Best fiction: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Best non-fiction: evicted by Matthew Desmond.
??? Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) ??
Haven’t you heard you only ever need 30 books or less at any one time? Just burn the old ones as needed //
Best book I read last year, hands down, was Ursula Le Guin’s Orsinia, which includes the novel Malafrena and her Orsina short stories. Orsinia is an imaginary eastern European country she invented which is sort of like a cross between Czechoslovakia and Romania and Malafrena is set in the 1830s and it is about resisting authoritarianism even when the costs are high, even when you are going to lose, because resisting is the only way to live. Very timely.
@??? Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) ??:
HAHAHAHA! So I’m not the only one who thought of Kondo and her “does it bring joy” schtick! Ha!
@Bex: That’s so cool — I know the author and she is lovely.
@Jim Parish: AWWW…I loved “Always Coming Home”. I wonder how it reads now (in the current political times, I mean).
@Jim Parish: Delaney’s Nova stands the test of time. Would love to see it as a Netflix short series, a la Altered Carbon.
Major Major Major Major
@??? Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) ??: @Chetan Murthy: jeez, all she said was that when she does it based on her feelings, she usually ends up with about thirty books.
MSNBC (@MSNBC) Tweeted:
Fmr. US Attorney General Eric Holder: “Barack Obama does not become President of the United States without a John Lewis.”
Catch ‘Headliners: John Lewis’ tonight at 9 p.m. ET with @JoyAnnReid on @MSNBC.
@dnfree: “Always Coming Home” was a classic but I couldn’t help thinking all the dancing mentioned would hilarious.
@JanieM: Yes! Louise Penny! I thought her most recent book was a bit ragged in places, not as well organized as her usual stories and I’m pretty sure that’s because she was so devastated by her husband’s death when it finally came. It was still very good and better-written than most books in general.
“Dark Sacred Night” by Michael Connelly. He’s the author of Lincoln Lawyer and the Harry Bosch series. This one is a Bosch story but it also has Renee Ballard as the other main character, and one tiny bit of her story really pissed me off because the character pays lip to the “not all men/some women lie about rape” BS, but I read past it and the book as a whole is good.
“Depth of Winter” by Craig Johnson. It’s a Longmire book, and the title is a bit deceptive. His books are written in a particular season, so the next one will be set in spring. The book was very good but it wasn’t set in Wyoming and it was brutal beyond anything he’s written before. Shocking, for this writer, but it was very good and you struggle and suffer along with the main characters and you can see it all in your mind’s eye, the whole landscape of the story.
I tried to read “After On” and had to close it after about 30 pages because I felt like I was being dragged back into my time working in Silicon Valley, but it won’t hit everyone that way. It’s good, and I’ll go back to it after a while.
“The Traveler, 1st Book of the 4th Realm” by John Twelve Hawks. I’m re-reading that one and it’s still a very entertaining paranoid fantasy. It’s about a shadowy government keeping us, everyone in the world, entertained and not informed so that we don’t know what’s going on, and the Harlequins and the Travelers who protect them and who are both being hunted by this secret government entity.
I haven’t really read any fiction in quite a while. Is Rowling really good at the mystery novel game? She is preceded in this genre by boatloads of great writers.
I’m also a bit worried that someone as famous as Rowling might think that she is no longer in need of a good and sympathetic editor, a malady which struck James Clavell and Stephen King.
David Weber’s Safehold series. Just finished the latest installment.
If you can’t deal with reading (when my anxiety gets too great, I just can’t focus on printed words), I recommend a youtube channel by the name of Dust that is serving up some, imo, very good sci-fi shorts. I’ve been really impressed by the quality. Occasionally you’ll see a face you recognize – like Mackenzie Crook, most recently (that I know of) in The Detectorists (which, if you haven’t, you should definitely watch!).
Steve in the ATL
Counterpoint: I didn’t care for JK Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series. Love her and her writing, but thought that these badly needed an editor (way too many parentheticals) and stories that were a bit dull.
As for Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connolly, I found it ok. Not up to his usual standards. 3/5.
Meanwhile, I will read absolutely anything by Don Winslow (such as The Cartel or Thomas Perry (such as The Butcher’s Boy et seq.
Has anyone read any Rebecca Makkai? Learned about her in my college alumni magazine but haven’t gotten her books yet.
“Finishing Doctor Thorne.” How Victorian!
I don’t blame Travers for being furious at how Disney handled the movie. Disney obsessively reverses the writers’ intent. Poppins was a stone cold bitch in the books, and those silly animated dance scenes were exactly what Mary Poppins would never do. I can go on extended rants about other books they mutilated.
I suspect Obama would be first in line to agree with that.
??? Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) ??
@Chetan Murthy: @Major Major Major Major:
No worries. I was only poking fun at Kondo ; )
Thanks for the reminder. I read a great review of this book, and then promptly forgot to order it.
Goes with the territory. There are wonderful finds that have not been fully evaluated, and new discoveries popping up. Back in my student days, one of my professors noted that some of his own work had been invalidated by the analysis of some human fossils. This only made him more excited to look at the new work and see where it might lead him.
@Brachiator: She’s really GREAT at the mystery novel game! I’ve read all of the Cormoran Strike books and the most recent was the best yet, so I don’t think lack of editorial supervision is a problem, at least not yet. Think Dickens as a 21st-century mystery writer.
@Brachiator: I enjoy them a lot. I don’t think they’re mystery classics by any stretch, but I always look forward to the next one. Strike and Robin are a good pair, and Rowling has always had a lovely eye for little moments and exchanges, IMO. Those little moments and little details make the series feel very lived-in.
I also enjoy the Tana French Dublin Murder Squad books. I have the next one waiting for me. But I got Michelle O’s book for Christmas, so Dublin Murder Squad may have to wait.
@MoxieM: I didn’t think to include the titles of the books about slavery in the US that I read while writing my book over the past two years (ten years, in reality). Some of these are terrible to read, others are pretty dry, and some are surprisingly hopeful stories.
“The Narrative of William Brown, A Fugitive Slave”, by William Brown.
David Bright’s “Passages to Freedom”.
“Bound For the Promised Land” Harriet Tubman
“Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 1861-1865” (Yale Series in Economic and Financial History) by Mark Geiger.
I read parts of a wonderful book, “The Modern Cook” by Fracatelli, written in 1846. An amazing book to just thumb through: recipes, table decorations, desserts, instructions on how to serve, what serving vessels to use, how the table should be set, and more!
“Ten Restaurants that Changed America” by Paul Freedman
“The Epicurean: A Complete Treatise of Analytical and Practical Studies on the Culinary Art” Ranhofer, Charles. 1894. This one is about Delmonico’s in New York, and like the Modern Cook in its contents, which are just as astonishing. The Victorians and the things they got up to.
Don’t care. I see the movies as something entirely separate from the books.
The sequel (continuation?), Mary Poppins Returns is still high in the UK top 10, and some viewers (including film critic Mark Kermode) talk about how they cried to have their favorite character back again. Some talked about how hard it was to let go of the Julie Andrews incarnation.
So, Disney wasn’t faithful to the source, which is still available, but found some part of Poppins which could appeal to a new audience.
@Frankensteinbeck: Actually I expected to be a lot more bothered by how the movie changed the book, and… I’m just not, somehow. I mean I would certainly be mad if I were Travers, and the Disney style isn’t a great fit for the material, especially because they felt like they had to make an adult’s problems central to it so it would have a plot (the new movie does that even more so, although I actually like the adult leads in that one). But I think the movie has a basic weirdness that shines through the mainstreamification of it, and Andrews really is great, even if she is sunnier than the book character (I do think “stone cold bitch” is an exaggeration; about the worst thing she does is to say she might call the police on the kids, which of course she doesn’t. She’s still a comforting figure overall).
It is an exaggeration, but she’s not nice. She’s a rigid, humorless authoritarian, and lines like ‘practically perfect in every way’ were meant seriously, not as ‘teehee, she’s so witty.’ The silliness of the movie was the opposite of the character’s intent. Magic and joy happen around Mary Poppins while she pretends they have nothing to do with her. That’s her schtick.
That said, as an author this is a personal issue for me. I know books need adaptation, but to turn them backwards from what the writer intended goes to my heart. I struggle with it in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Peter Pan, where the original books were nightmares that desperately needed reversing. In a non-jackal setting, I wire my mouth shut to avoid attacking people’s love of things like the Rescuers movies, which they should get to love.
EDIT – Or as a wise person once sang, “It’s okay to not like things, but don’t be a dick about the things you don’t like.”
@Frankensteinbeck: I feel like you and I have read two different books. Well, that happens.
It totally does.
J R in WV
Love Peter Watts, love Vernor Vinge, love, love Iain Banks and all of his SF. I did read some of his not-so-SF works, and didn’t really care for them so much, compared to his SF work. Maybe just me, I’m a big SF fan from back in Jr High in the ’60s.
Nancy Kress writes good stuff.
Eric Flint writes a lot of historical fiction with either odd temporal changes, a huge series where a late 20th century town suddenly appears in 16th century Germany, and has to deal with the religious wars of that period. Another piece he is still working on is a historical piece (4 novels so far) about Venice and their trading empire, and a vile demonic enemy in Lithuania. There’s a little magic and lots of history. Mercedes Lackey and David Freer collaborate on that one, and a ton of people contribute to the Ring of Fire, which is their term for the unknown mechanism that moved a coal mining town to 1632 Germany.
And that’s what I’ve been reading…
Trying to get into N K Jimison, seems like it will be hard for me to get into it, really. Another well loved SF author I’m having trouble getting close to is Hannu Rajaniemi, which people I respect have adored, but I’m having a lot of trouble getting into it.
I know people were wary of it because it was produced by Disney, but Saving Mr. Banks, a slightly fictionalized version of PL Travers’ life and the making of the movie, is actually very good. Travers is the central character and the movie is very sympathetic towards her, but it also doesn’t gloss over the fact that she was a giant pain in the ass despite collecting a large paycheck, a cut of what turned out to be massive profits, and was able to publish sequels that no publisher wanted before the movie was a hit. And she never forgave Disney for any of it.
If I had to do a one-sentence description of the movie, I would say that it’s about a guy who’s always skated by on his charm running up against a woman who is impervious to being charmed, and somehow they manage to create a classic movie while continuing to dislike each other. No one comes across as a saint, except maybe the screenwriter and songwriters who had to try and negotiate between the immovable force and the stubborn object that were Walt Disney and PL Travers.
I totally sympathetize with you and what you want as a writer.
And yet as a movie-goer I love to see how the art of adapting a work is about creative transformation.
Also, in the case of Poppins, there is a British tradition of books about nannies, as well as personal histories, that simply does not exist for Americans and other people.
Susan Sotto Voce
“These Truths” by Jill Lepore. A history of the US pretty much in line with what we were taught in school, set side-by-side with what was happening to black people. It really brings new perspective to our past. Just finished the early 1800s discussion of the original newspapers – partisan instruments all.
J R in WV
On the nonfiction side, the best thing I read last year was David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got Here, about the reconstruction of ancient history via DNA studies.
If you ever have a chance, you may be interested in the Broadway musical version of “Mary Poppins,” which was started with the cooperation and approval of PL Travers (though she died before it was produced). It uses some of the songs from the Julie Andrews film, but re-arranges them and tells a story that’s closer to the books than to the original movie.
(Apparently Travers did not want to use any of the Sherman brothers’ songs, but Cameron Mackintosh was able to convince her that the show would flop without them, so she reluctantly agreed.)
If I ever go back to film school for a PhD, I could probably write a thesis about how Disney’s live-action musicals are all about showing men of the 1950s and 1960s how to be better, more relaxed fathers who are able to form a close emotional relationship with their children, but I digress …
Rachel Bach – Fortune’s Pawn and the two that follow. Interstellar mercenaries and more, with a female protagonist.
For non-fiction, I admit to enjoying 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (Yuval Noah Harari, September 4, 2018). It is a broad, easily-absorbed set of essays on issues that humanity will be facing in the 21st century, some of them already being faced. Not perfect, oversimplified in some sections, but decent futurism and with copious references, some pretty current.
Bard the Grim
First, my thanks to whomever recommended “Firelord” by Parke Godwin (semi-historical Arthurian legend/novel) in a thread many months back–really enjoyed it. In return, for science fiction, I recommend Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series–fantastic writer, well developed characters, great stories. I rarely stray into fantasy, but her Chalion series and Sharing Knife series are also excellent.
@opiejeanne: Similarly, I didn’t include any of the abolitionist monographs, slavery/public history, Slave narratives, or economic histories of the sugar islands…those were not this year! But the Blight deserves a mention (even though I personally despise his agent for personal reasons and am highly (use sniffy indignant tone) disappointed to read at the very end that he used her. Sniff!! But still, people are talking about Frederick Douglass more and more these days… :) And the Ulrich, for me, is like curling up under a favorite quilt with a cup of tea–soothing to the brain and soul. We should all have such books!
I re-read several of the Octavia Butler Parable series as well. She’s just so damn good.
@J R in WV:
I’m definitely ordering Reich’s book. I have the NY Times article, but haven’t had a chance to look at it.
Hell, scientists have made sweeping conclusions based on a tooth or a fragment of a femur.
However, scientists are discovering more fossil remains, revisiting earlier finds, and refining analytical techniques. It’s really an exciting time.
Charles Stross’s work is particularly notable for the attention he pays to world-building. The worlds generally make sense, even the Laundry urban fantasy/elder god(/”Lovecraftian Singularity”) stories. No spoilers, but it quite fun to imagine how a POTUS DJT with NPD would deal (or not) with the US in the The Labyrinth Index. (Click through for more of a hint. The president is NOT DJT BTW; different timeline.)
News of the World by Paulette Jiles – I heard it described as a tiny, unexpected gem by some review somewhere and picked it up on a whim at the library. It was astonishing.
How could I forget John Scalzi? I finally got around to reading “Head On”, which follows his book, “Lock In”. Murder mystery, pretty darned good but I just love Scalzi.
Also read the second book in the Collapsing Empire series, “The Consuming Fire”. Read the first one first, they are both really good.
@MoxieM: I have a Frederick Douglass book on my nook, still waiting for me along with a W.E.B duBois book and several others that I haven’t gotten to. I’ve started the rewrite of my book, but I need to wade through most of these before I dive back into the parts that deal with slavery to see what I need to fix (possibly a lot).
@??? Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) ??: since the subject of this thread is about books we’ve read, what have you been reading lately?
Where's my hammer
Becky Chambers first book (Angry Planet) was a fun read. The sequels went downhill, but she’s got it in her to write good stuff.
I read the Rajaniemi book based on a Stross blurb. It was a real slog for me, but I finished it. Barely.
Recommended from an earlier book thread (I think from TaMara), I picked up a Vicki Delany mystery from the library. Wonderful. I’ve read four now, and more on the hold list. And in one of those novels (set in a bookstore), the main character recommends Laurie King books, so I borrowed one of those. Also wonderful. I’ve read three and have more on hold.
Non-fiction: there is a dude that goes by the name of Tom that hangs around a couple of shady joints called MIT and balloon-juice. Authored some books about Newton and Einstein and the planet Vulcan. If you haven’t read those, then you are missing out big time.
I’ve been binging on vampires this past year. Barbara Hambly’s Those Who Hunt the Night deserves the Locus award it won in 1989. Set in London at the tail end of Victoria’s reign, a retired spy (now researching and teaching folklore and dialects in a dozen languages at Oxford) is forced to work for the London vampires to find a vampire-killer. Hambly is a historian and has captured both the setting and the period writing style well.
In no particular order:
The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley
Up the Walls of the World by James Tiptree, Jr.
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
The Square Root of Man by William Tenn
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
We Who Are About To by Joanna Russ
He, She, and It by Marge Piercy
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach
Finding Land by Marian Pierce. Surreal, strange, very funny stories about an American woman living in Japan.
I’m into the Passage but the book is on kindle. It’s also over 800 pages and I’ve read 400 pages so far.
Semiosis by Sue Burke – sci-fi about a group of humans who leave a dying earth to live on a planet where plants are the sentient life forms.
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow – most notably for me, a scathing criticism of capitalism
I also bounced off Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief but I’m enjoying his book of short stories.
@Brachiator: I just finished her fourth and think they are quite good. She takes her time developing the story but I like her writing so much that I didn’t mind that the pace was a little slower than the typical detective book. They’re worth a read.
A few years ago, I spent a year binging exclusively on detective, sci-fi and fantasies set in London. I really enjoyed Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant/Rivers of London series, Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series, and Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series.