Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Books

So, it's the end of January and time to tally up my books read during the month.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
A collection of stories set in Pakistan, this is one of the notable books of 2009. The stories all deal with various manifestations of love, in a less harsh manner than in "Maps for Lost Lovers" (about Pakistanis in London), though so many of the stories are tragic.

Brasyl by Ian MacDonald (on my TBR alternative list)
Science fiction novel set in the near future, 2006 and the 18th century. A bit confusing at first but once I settled into the world, it was an incredible book which meshes together history, culture and a mind-bending plot.

Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver. I also read Cathedral, another collection of stories, though half of them are also in 'Where I'm Calling From.'
Carver is one of America's greatest short story writers. His style is spare, able to evoke feelings with the minimum amount of words. He writes about ordinary people, trying to find an elusive something through externals - through alcohol, marrying someone new, abstaining from alcohol, divorcing someone, trying to stay married (though this is often by accident). My favorite story is "Cathedral", about how the unnamed character transcends jealousy when his wife invites her former employer, a blind man, into their home.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (on my TBR list)
I just finished this today - Atwood is such a master. In this story, she weaves together the life stories of four characters, tied together to someone who is truly evil.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
This book has an idea-driven plot, with interesting foundations: 1. All the oil in the world has run out so a greatly diminished population has to do with renewable power sources - such as mainsprings in cars, guns, etc. Much of the work previously done in the golden age of oil, is now done by human or animal labor. 2. Plagues have run through the world - developed by scientists, they have wiped out much of the crop production. Other genetically modified insects have wiped out the forests by goggling them up. There are any number of diseases that kill humans, or by killing crops have killed humans by starvation. GM companies in the US have both developed these plagues and genetically modified, sterile crops that resist them. Evil.

In order to deal with manual labor issues, genetically modified animals called 'Windups' have been developed. The plot revolves around a foreigner, a windup girl, various ministries in Thailand and refugees.

The writing is OK, repetitive in many places. Where I kinda get left off is the violence in the last third of the book. I'm a peacenik; I don't think the physical violence at the end really needed to advance the plot. However, I think the book is worth reading because of the ideas, and the near-futureness of it. It really could happen.

Wanting by Richard Flanagan
Historical fiction with three main components - 'civilizing' aborigines in Tasmania, where whole groups of people are relocated into villages. One of the children is picked out by the Governor's wife, Lady Jane Franklin to be the subject of her grand experiment to see if a Christian veneer can take. The second component is Sir John Franklin's exploration in the artic. And the third revolves around Charles Dickens and the staging of a play based on John Franklin's tragic end.

This book is very intense, sad and wonderful and maybe packed too tightly into its slim volume. But there are thoughtful and beautiful passages. Because of the complexity of the three stories, I think that it really could be three times as long.

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