Friday, February 26, 2016

2016 Reading Goals: Update #1

As we near the end of February, I thought I would take stock of the progress I have made toward my "2016 Reading Goals."  To recap, here is how I decided to focus my reading this year:

  • [GoodReads Goal] Read 100 books
  • Read at least 10 audio books
  • Read at least 10 eBooks 
  • Complete a manga series
  • Complete at least one YA series
  • Read more with my pug
  • Read a series of novels 
  • Read more diversely 
With just under 20% of the year gone, I have:
  • Read 11 books
  • Read 4 audio books
  • Read 3 or 13 books in the Death Note series
  • I haven't started a new YA series and I have not made any progress in any of the YA series I have started in the past
  • I've not read with my pug, though I am going to change that this week.
  • I have the complete series of In Search of Lost Time on my Kindle . . . but I have yet to dig into it.
  • I have read books by (male) authors from China and Japan, but I am actively on the hunt for books by LGBTQA-centric books, particularly by authors from the community, to add to my TBR
Where are you in your 2016 reading goals?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev. 
Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Review: The Dumb House

Once again, I am late to the party.  

Last summer, Jen Campbell drew attention to John Burnside's first novel, reissued by Vintage UK in along with a series of modern Scottish classics in paperback, and the booktube/ bookblogosphere world was soon #Burnsided.  

I'm not immune from hype, but the novel is difficult to source in North America (unless you order from The Book Depository) and I was busy starting a new job so I didn't get around to the novel until December when I bought the eBook version for my *new* Kindle.  I started reading the novel in December.  I finished reading it today, February 20.  This is not a reflection of my reading ability, folks.

For those who are unfamiliar with the novel, The Dumb House is about a young man who, as a child, was fascinated by Akbar the Great's "Gang Mahal," or dumb house, where infants were kept in total silence, attended to by mutes, in an effort to learn if language is God-given or learned.  As an adult, the narrator attempt to recreate the experiment with his children.

So, so many people whose reviews I rate highly love this book; I, on the other hand, have a love/hate relationship with it.  The novel is beautifully written; there are lovely passages that touch on the soul and the essence of language and human connections that are jaw-droppingly beautiful.  However, these beautiful moments are punctuated by plot points that are deeply, deeply,  disturbing: the novel is an anthology of trigger warnings-- animal mutilation, child abuse, rape, alcoholism, [possible] incest, and human mutilation are the triggers that readily come to mind.  

There are many readers who are entranced by Burnside's poetic, philosophic prose, readers who can overlook the sickening events that populate the novel.  I cannot.  I appreciate The Dumb House's narrative beauty, but I am chilled by its plot.  

Perhaps I am too faint of heart.
Saturday, February 20, 2016

Monthly Wrap Up: January 2016

The other day it occurred to me that I hadn't posted my monthly reading wrap up for January.  While I didn't read as much as I would have liked in January (a constant state of affairs if you work full-time and blog about books on the side!), what I did read was eclectic enough to appeal to appeal to most readers.  So, here are the reads I made my way through last month:

|1| The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress by Beryl Bainbridge
I read this one on audiobook on a whim: it was short and I had wanted to give Bainbridge, an author I have heard about but had never read, a shot.  In retrospect, I probably should not have begun my foray into Bainbridge with the book she was working on at the time of her death . . . and never finished.  The novel is about an English woman named Rose and a man she believes to be called "Washington Harold" as they take a cross-country journey in search of a man named Dr. Wheeler.  Their journey coincides with the race for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.  Perhaps if Bainbridge had finished the novel the book would have been more gripping, or even more interesting.  As it stands, I only gave the book a two out of five stars on GoodReads.

|2| Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
Last year I read Lawson's newer memoir, Furiously Happy and, I have to say, I preferred Furiously Happy to Let's Pretend This Never Happened. What unnerved me about Lawson's first collect of essays were the casual references to animal cruelty that pepper the text.  There were at least two essays that I had to quickly skip past because I found their content too triggering.  Where Lawson excels is in her discussions of the challenges of living with mental health and chronic illness; when she strays from these topics, her work lack engagement and becomes, well . . . uncomfortable.  For the strength of her essays on mental health and chronic illness, I gave this book three out of four stars on GoodReads.

|3| Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
I listed to this book on audio book as well and I really enjoyed it.  The text was narrated beautifully by B.D. Wong, formerly of Law and Order: SVU and was worth a listen just for Wong's performance alone.  In addition to it's artful presentation, the story was lovely as well.  Balzac is about a pair of friends sent to rural western China as part of the Cultural Revolution who befriend a seamstress with the help of banned western literature.  If you haven't read this slim novel, I heartily recommend it, and its audio book even more.  I gave the book a four out of five on GoodReads.

|4| Death Note, Vol. 3
In January I also read the third book in the Death Note series.  At this point in the series L is annoying me and I am hopeful that Light will learn his name . . . no such lunch in volume 3, folks!  None the less I will preserver with the series.  I gave this one a three out five on GoodReads; it's was good . . . but not life changing.

|5| Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
I think I was one of the last people in the blogosphere who read Nimona.  It's as good as it has been made out to be.  Simply put, the book is about a young woman who ingratiates her way into being the sidekick to her Kingdom's resident bad guy.  Soon, however, it becomes apparent that Nimona has magical shape-shifting powers that makes her an asset to her boss and a dangerous, lose cannon.  The book explores themes such as mental health, trauma, love, and friendship in nuanced ways that are usually missing from graphic novels.  Let's just be honest, Noelle Steveson has won graphic novels.  Duh, I gave this one a five out of five stars on GoodReads.

What have you read so far this year?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Review: Brave Genius

In Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize* (2014) University of Wisconsin molecular biologist Sean B. Carroll is the story of two men who tried to live ethical lives during some of the world’s darkest hours. 

Brave Genius follows the parallel lives of Albert Camus and Jacques Monod, two of twentieth century France’s greatest thinkers and ethicists.  Both men were Nobel Laureates (Camus for literature, Monod for physiology) whose professional successes were matched by their activities—both overt and covert—as public intellectuals. 

During the German occupation of France in WWII, Camus and Monod were active members of the French Resistance: Camus wrote scathing editorials in the Resistance newspaper Combat while Monod led sabotage missions—activities frequently punished by execution.  After the war, both men became outspoken critics of Soviet-style Communism and the stultifying effects of totalitarianism on personal liberties and public discourse. 

The strongest aspect of Brave Genius is in its characterization of Monod and his daring-do.  Truly, it is Monod who is the hero of this book—and rightly so.  Until I read Brave Genius, I was not familiar with Monod, his awarding winning work on gene expression, or even his contributions to French intellectual life.  Carroll’s tight, tension-building prose underscores the gravity of Monod’s heroic actions. 

Ironically, Brave Genius’s greatest weakness is its central marketing point: the friendship between Monod and Camus.  The book is marketed as an exploration of the formative friendship between Camus and Monod; Carroll goes so far as to claim that Camus’s friendship with Monod was on the most indelible relationships Camus ever had.  However, Carroll only succeeds in showing how the men lead parallel lives, the reader is left in the awkward position of having to accept that the men had a fraternal bond based on a few excerpted letters and the author’s word alone.  Had Carroll brought the friends together more within the pages of Brave Genius, this claim at deep friendship would have seemed less tenuous.   

Overall, Brave Genius is well worth a read for Camus fans, French culture enthusiasts, and war buffs alike. 

*This book was sent to me by the publisher for review.  I have not been financially compensated for this review and the thoughts expressed herein are my own.