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Peeking Over My Shoulder

Miscellaneous quotes from current reads or past faves, as well as to-reads culled from friends' recommendations, blogs, podcasts, etc. A running answer to the question: "What're you reading?"

Currently reading

The Dante Club
Matthew Pearl
The Famished Road
Ben Okri
Kingdom Come
J.G. Ballard
The City and the City
China Miéville
Open City: A Novel
Teju Cole
The Slippage: A Novel
Ben Greenman
Please Step Back
Ben Greenman
Blindness / Seeing
José Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero (Translator), Margaret Jull Costa (Translator)
""He saw something small and dark just off the riverbank, something that seemed to give off heat although the water was cold. He reached for it and the vision burst, and though he shut his eyes and burrowed deeper into the blankets and the sheets he could not bring it back. Finally he stopped trying with his mind and started trying with his mouth. 'Walking by the river,' he sang, 'feeling all alone. I don't have a single thing to call my very own.' And suddenly, he did.""
Please Step Back - Ben Greenman

Page 8 of Please Step Back by Ben Greenman. Last few lines of the first section: "Fade In."

Pets, The

Pets, The - Bragi Olafsson I read about this book on a book blog (Nancy Pearl?) and was able to order it through our wonderful library system from who knows what far-flung library. I'd forgotten about it by the time it arrived and yet have been engrossed in reading it ever since. I've not read Icelandic fiction before so I cannot speak in those terms but Olafsson has such a unique voice and style of drawing you into the character's lives through the smallest details (like a pair of glasses - if you read it, you'll see what I mean). This is not a fast paced story and yet because of its non-linearity, it's not necessarily slow either. I would call it deliberate, fully formed and quite intriguing in its bizarreness! It gives the impression at first that its a simple, fun little story but as you keep reading, there is something darker, odder, more complex underneath. And whatever we're leading up to, is going to be even more so, I am sure. I'll let you know more when I've finished it. I've also just read a summary of the book (I rarely read summaries) and realize that indeed the first 1/3 of the book would have been totally spoiled for me if I had done so. Not that it would have kept me from reading necessarily but that small degree of suspense would not have been there - like forgetting to put a key seasoning in an otherwise delicious soup.

The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles Series #1)

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss Being the only one among my friends, acquaintances or all those I see posting online who cannot get into the George R.R. Martin books - and believe me I have _tried_ (though only via audiobook so I will try one more time with a hard copy from the library one of these days) - I decided to check out this book long ago recommended to me by a Facebook friend after I posted a request for something good to read.I listened to the audiobook version and then halfway through bought the book and read along in parts when I didn't have my ipod. [Aside: I discovered sometime ago that there is such a distinctly different quality to the experience of the written and audio versions of the same story. No universal judgment can be assigned imho either way, but there is definitely a qualitative difference - I pick up on different things and enjoy (or not) the story in different ways. I also am tickled when I find that character/place names are nothing like I imagined them to be.]Rothfuss has created a world that is rich with fully formed characters and the main character, in particular, despite being fairly stereotypical in some ways (the classic hero clawing his way up from tragedy) he draws you in and is ultimately too complex a character to be burdened with being a stereotype. The same can be said of his supporting cast. Their motivations and interactions with him are often predictable but never boring and always richly detailed, elaborately described and deeply integral to the gradually evolving plotline.And that's the main thing that I loved so much about this book which is part of a series that I intend to continue reading, namely that the story builds up gradually, layer by layer. I don't want to give anything away so I won't say too much about the how or the specifics but I really liked the almost rhythmic cadence of the story's progression. And given that music plays a huge role in the story itself, it's not small wonder that I apply this metaphor to it.

The Man in the Maze (Avon SF, V2262)

The Man in the Maze - Robert Silverberg Aside from the blatant sexism infused throughout this novel, I really really enjoyed the main plot of the story and the three men both in the literal physical maze, as well as their own internal "mazes" of both emotional, psychological and moral design. In the newer edition that I read, Neil Gaiman has written an introduction which does allude to the sexism/objectification of women though not with as much of a warning as I would have liked. There simply is no excuse for this theme both to the extent that it is used within the book and that women exist within the book as nothing more than playtoys and sexual fantasies/reminiscings - if there had been a counterbalance, perhaps I would feel somewhat differently. Gaiman also mentions that the maze and its construction is very much like the puzzles that are now so common in the gaming world and hence may be very familiar to the modern-day reader. Indeed, the maze did have that familiar feel to it, in that sense, but that didn't detract from the story because at heart the story isn't about the physical maze... not really. It's about the three men and their interactions with each other and within themselves. And that's the part that I enjoyed the most.The end of the book... I won't spoil it - but I didn't like that as much. It was too much of a deus ex, if you ask me. And a bit too hokey. Ok a lot too hokey. And I'd rather give this book a 3.5 but because I cannot and because of the sexism and the hokeyness, I am going to have to settle for a 3 out of 5. But, in truth, this story is truly worth the read, as long as you aren't easily offended and enjoy a bit of solid psychological science fiction.


Glimmering - Elizabeth Hand I will probably just return this to the library unfinished - I've gotten to the stage of jumping ahead and looking for the part where it starts to make sense. The beautiful, almost magical writing that Hand exhibited in her collection of short stories is nowhere to be found in this story (or rather I haven't found it so far). Granted it Glimmering is meant to be more of a cyberpunk sort of tale, but this doesn't explain prose that is choppy, a plot that is dysfunctional and characters that I simply can't connect with from page one. Not to mention that one of the scenes I jumped ahead to was the sort of sex scene that makes one wonder why anyone would bother in the first place.But, I won't give up on her just yet - the short stories were simply too compelling, I am hoping that one of her other books is better crafted. I truly wasn't expecting to dislike it this much or even to write such a scathing review!

Gabriel's Story

Gabriel's Story - David Anthony Durham 1870 - American West - young boys and their journey... Except this isn't your usual Western tale with romanticized cowboys and rowdy times in the saloons. The story is unrelenting in its depictions of senseless violence, racism, sexism, the trials of homesteading and the dangers faced by two young Af-Am boys traveling with strangers, far from home. The sense that their lives are not in their control comes across so poignantly that the story is hard to listen to at times. And yet, there are elements of poetry infused into every raw aspect of the tale and Durham manages to take you right up to (and sometimes onto) that line of going-to-far, without actually losing you on the other side of it. His writing style is open and honest and guides you like a gentle but firm hand through the landscape of Gabriel Lynch and his trials.

Voices (Annals of the Western Shore, #2)

Voices (Annals of the Western Shore, #2) - Ursula K. Le Guin I'm enjoying Le Guin's writing style - it's been many years since I've read anything by her. She has a wonderful ear for words and for names of people/places, producing almost lyrical passages.However, I find it unacceptable in a story rated as young adult and targeted to the '11 and up' crowd, to have such explicit and multiple mentions of rape in the story. Such mentions are critical to explain the main character's environment and personality, but there are ways of alluding to such things in a way that a child reader who doesn't know of such things doesn't have to learn about them in such a blunt and direct way. Other readers will certainly get the idea.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist: A Novel

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid Everything about this novel is a metaphor - some aspects more obvious than others. This novel was not very long at all but it has taken me a couple of weeks to digest it. The distinctive style/format of the story is captivating and provides ample opportunity for a certain degree of dark humor.More later...

The Torment of Others: A Novel

The Torment of Others - Val McDermid This story was very well crafted and I couldn't put it down...But it is, by its very nature, extremely freaky. The descriptions of the crimes that take place are far too graphic for most I suspect. And the nature of the crimes (sexual homicide) are far outside what most folks would want to read about.However, I fell in love with McDermid's writing style with The Grave Tattoo so it was a foregone conclusion that I would read another. I'm not exactly sorry that I picked this one up but I am glad it is over at the same time. Very few books have been so painful to read and yet so well written that I couldn't put it down.The main characters are compelling and believable. They are complex and McDermid makes them and the environment of the story come to life with careful attention to details. The ending was not at all what I expected. Not even a little and it takes a lot for me to be totally surprised by a crime novel. Bottom line: I learned a lot about crafting a _good_ crime novel with 3-dimensional characters from this book but I would not recommend this book. Not to just anyone that is.

A Mango-Shaped Space

A Mango-Shaped Space - This story was captivating almost from the get go. Initially, the main character and her annoying siblings seem to be without a great deal of depth, however, that very quickly is revealed to not be the case with the main character. Her family remains very much a kind of backdrop to her story but the ways in which they grow and change are much like the colors Mia sees in everything.Having my own personal connection to synesthesia, I was compelled to pick up this story and I am very glad I did so. There is such emotional depth in the main character and I challenge anyone to read it and not experience at least some of what Mia is going through with her.And I applaud the author for such a thorough and compassionate description of a young girl going through the usual 13 year old "stuff" along with opening up about her synesthesia. In other words, A Mango-Shaped Space is both a coming of age story and a kind of 'coming out' story as Mia shares this integral part of who she is with the world. Part of me thinks this story, if done right, could be beautiful as a movie. But... then again...

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - These stories were mostly all a delight to listen to - there were a few of them, however, that were sheer divinity. Just so you know ahead of time. :)Gaiman crafts all kinds of classic weirdness: vampires and ghosts and etc - but in a way that solidly his own unique style. The stories and poems are all different lengths and some of my favorites from this collection were in the fact the shorter ones. I will have to look up the titles and add to this review with details later.But I was surprised to read one review that suggested that readers would "do better" to start with his earlier longer works. Frankly, I think this is nonsense. These stories are a perfect introduction to Gaiman as much as they are a continuation if you are already hooked or a hook if you aren't quite sure... But - that's just my humble opinion.

Breaking the Waves

Breaking the Waves - Lars Von Trier A review I wrote of Lars can be found at [http://recoveringchemist.blogspot.com], as inspired by discovering this book here on goodreads.

The Demolished Man (S.F. MASTERWORKS)

The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester The text of this book is amazing in its economy of words - each and every word seems very carefully chosen for maximal impact.The pace of the story is not fast paced (not by modern standards anyway) and yet it compells you forward in a subtle but insistent way.More once I have finished it...

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer This book took some time to get into - not a lot - but it was shaky at first because I read The ~ of the Dog in the Nighttime which seemed to feature a similar main character, a young boy who seemed detached from mainstream society in certain ways and has trouble relating to that society. In the latter book, this is because the kid is possibly autistic (it's never said explicitly). In this book, however, I do not believe this to be the case though clearly the author gave his young protagonist a unique personality which has some similarities (he only wears white clothes, for instance). Eccentricities? I was worried, whatever they are, that both authors were exploiting these eccentricities in their stories for shock value. In Nighttime, this does seem to be the case to me. In ELIC - not so much.The story is very richly detailed - with complex characters and intense relationships among all the main characters. We see the young boy as the main character and in truth the story stays very much _his_ story throughout but woven throughout are just as compelling, and just as relevant, stories from his relatives and acquaintances/friends. These stories each are linked to each other in ways you cannot fully predict but once you learn of the links, you begin to better understand all the characters.Reading (or rather listening - which is a relevant distinction for this book in particular - stay tuned) to this story was very much like walking into an art gallery filled with fog and being lead through the gallery by the hand of this young, precocious (i.e. very mature for his age in good ways and complicated ways) boy. As you walk through the gallery, the fog begins to slowly lift and you see stunning portraits, multimedia presentations, etc and sometimes you walk past the same exhibits, and each time you see something new because the fog is lifting and because each piece impacts how you view the others.And of course there is the boy himself, who is sharing his story with you and by the 3rd disc or so, I was really enamored with Oscar and wanted to know more. The other characters, sometimes when you pass by their portraits they come to life and you are compelled to join them inside the picture frame, and listen to their story, led by the hand by them through the same gallery as if in an alternate universe.The back of this audiobook relates this as a journey of the main character as he tries to heal from the death of his father during the World Trade Center attacks. This is, on one hand, only a small part of the story, and yet on the other hand, it is the only part of Oscar's story - all else is relative to that. Truly the book succeeds at weaving many stories together in such a way that both of these statements are equally true.Lastly, I would say that most of the time reading a book via audiobook does not significantly change the experience of reading the book. There are distinct differences to be sure. And there are things that are changed to make the audiobook work. In the case of this book, I had to go to the bookstore to look at the paperback, because I could tell that this would be an oddly formatted book just from the many different stories, etc etc. And indeed, it is! There are different kinds of text, with different colors, fonts, sizes, etc. Letters. Photos. etc. And that's so appropriate but it also allowed me to marvel at what they must have done to translate the story into an audiobook format. I'd have to really sit down and read the paperback to comment further.I have not decided yet why I have given this only a 4, and not a 5. I may upgrade the rating. As this is my 2nd book added to my shelf - I have to consider whether this book is indeed on par with the last, which I rated a 5. But don't get me started on the arbitrariness of rating systems and how to avoid this with a definitive system...

Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman This story was so much fun to listen to! I am hardly alone in being a fan of Gaiman's singular genius in the fantasy/sci-fi genre, but it bears repeating I suppose.Apparently this story is a continuation of Gaiman's American Gods, which I am now reading and enjoying immensely. While the style is uniquely Gaiman all around, I was surprised to learn that there was a connection between the two stories as they seem so very different also. But then again, I'm only a few chapters into A.G.The thematic elements of families and their neurotic, crazy tendencies (nutty names for the kids like Fat Charlie who really isn't fat, siblings that couldn't be any different from each other and yet..., etc.) are so easy to relate to and so darkly humorous as penned by the man.Also this audiobook was a pure delight with the added element of Lenny Henry, the British comedian extraordinaire. What a voice! And just the right infusion of humor, mischief and gloriously confused wild 'n crazy nuttiness! :D

The Grave Tattoo

The Grave Tattoo - Val McDermid So far, I agree that this novel is very much in the same line as The Rule of Four, etc. It seems to be just as well written and as entertaining/compelling. The characters are more interesting to me though as the former featured ivy league college students with all that such a culture entails. More later.

The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon I definitely need to re-read...or rather _read_ this book now as I do not believe I had the tools necessary to know how to approach this novel back in '95. That isn't to say that I do now. So, we shall see...