Sunday, April 27, 2014

Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory

The Wasp Factory by Iain BanksI came to The Wasp Factory  by way of two of Iain Banks' Culture novels, Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games, so I assumed it would have a science fiction angle.  I never expected a novel filled with brutal, violent stories, and narrated by a chilling, cold, rational, and deeply disturbed character.  But as the novel unfolded, I was struck most by how good this novel is despite being unsettling.

The novel is impressive because of the powerful narrative voice. As I read, I kept thinking how strange it was to be drawn to the stories of such an apparently disturbed mind.  The sense of order and control are strong, and Frank, the narrator offers perfectly lucid explanations for what he does or has done in the past.  And yet, all along, there are also moments when I paused and thought about how wrong those explanations, and the events, are.

Somewhere in the middle of the novel, it becomes painfully obvious that the novel will end with some stunning revelation.  I was not able to anticipate the revelation, and was very surprised by the twist the narrative took.

The Wasp Factory is an excellent novel, but one that leaves one wondering whether it's wrong to like it so much.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mid-event survey

I'm well past the halfway point, but thought I'd complete this mid-event survey anyway.

1. What are you reading right now?
Still working on Henry James: The Mature Master.  Only 25 pages left, however.

2. How many books have you read so far?

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
It was mostly free, but I wound up taking advantage of the beautiful weather and was outside more than I had planned.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Nothing more than the usual, other than the delicious weather.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
How much more difficult it is to do this when the weather is ideal.  The last one I did was in the first week of January, and that was quite easy.

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
Nothing comes to mind right now.

9. Are you getting tired yet?
Yes, but I want to push on if possible--we'll see.

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
Nothing comes to mind right now.

Read-a-thon update #2

Currently reading:  Sheldon Novick, Henry James:  The Mature Master
Books finished:  0
Pages read:  28
Running total of pages read: 71
Amount of time spent reading: 75 minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 175 minutes

Read-a-Thon update #1

Currently reading:  Sheldon Novick, Henry James:  The Mature Master
Books finished:  0
Pages read: 43
Running total of pages read: 43
Amount of time spent reading: 100 minutes
Running total of time spent reading: 100 minutes
Snacks: 1 Pop-Tart

Dewey's 24-hour Read-a-Thon--opening post

I'm participating today in "Dewey's 24-hour Read-a-Thon," so here are my responses to the opening prompts:

I'm currently in central Illinois, enjoying an absolutely gorgeous spring morning.  I'll likely spend some of the day reading out in the hammock out back.

I'm looking forward to finally finishing Sheldon Novick's Henry James:  The Mature Master, which I will complete early in the 24-hour period (hopefully this afternoon).  I also look forward to finishing RL Stevenson's Kidnapped.

I've participated in read-a-thons in the past, and what I've realized is that having one big book to push through is the wrong approach.  This time, I plan to work on finishing a couple of books, and maybe start something light, fun and relatively short towards the end.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Christopher McDougall's Born to Run

Born to Run by Christopher McDougallI've been puzzled, several times in the past, when I've read a review of a non-fiction book (typically history) that describes the book as a "page-turner" that pushes the reader forward like a good mystery would.  I confess that I've not had that experience except in one or two instances, and such a description frankly sounds ridiculous to me.  Maybe that's because I agree with Henry James, who believed that great writing requires a level of engagement from the reader that goes well beyond the "page-turner" level. 

Having said that, I now want to announce that Christopher McDougall's Born to Run is a page-turner, without being a book of fluff. It explores some big questions about human willpower and capacity for physical exertion, but the way McDougall writes the story makes it very difficult to put the book down.  Apparently I've come to this book, and that conclusion, late in the game, however:  according to one website I read, I'm one of the remaining six runners on the planet who had not read the book.  The number is now down to five.

Part of what I love about this book is that it makes a compelling case for the idea that anyone can run an ultramarathon--50- or 100-milers, or more--if one chooses to do it.  That's not an easy idea for me to wrap my head around, because like most people, the idea of running/jogging/walking for 10-20 hours is a crazy one.  And yet, McDougall writes in a way that is seductive, and it made me literally want to leap out of my chair and go for a long run (I didn't, by the way, and instead continued sitting and reading).  Before reading the book, I thought of a marathon not as something you enjoyed doing, but something you enjoyed having done.  McDougall's book makes me want to work on enjoying the long run itself and for its own sake, not in the service of a bigger goal.

I think this is a terrific book about a topic that likely seems exotic to most people, even those who run long distances. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Complete stop

Over the last couple of weeks, I've almost completely stopped reading, especially during the week.  Last weekend I read a good bit and finished a couple of books, but other than that, I've put up a big goose egg most days for pages read.  I'm not sure how to account for it--stuff at work definitely, but that typically doesn't shut the whole reading endeavor down. 

I've got several partially completed books lying around right now, and I need to get back into them and finish.  I always know that I'm in a cluttered, distracted state of mind when I have lots and lots of partially read books everywhere.  And because I've not been reading much, I've posted less than I had been--less to say about books when you don't read them.

I'm not sure how to flip that switch and get going again.  I'll see what the week brings.

Friday, April 4, 2014

March Madness wrap up

So I thought I would do much better on this one.  I started out very strong, but faded in the middle.  Last weekend I picked the pace up again, and finished strong, but I didn't get much on my original list completed

Here's the list of books that I completed in March:

Conrad, Joseph Under Western Eyes  (on my original March list)
Pullman, Philip The Subtle Knife  (on my original March list)
Cather, Willa My Antonia  
Greene, Graham The Quiet American  
Zafon, Carlos Ruiz Shadow of the Wind