December Books

Welcome to 2015, here’s what I read the last month in 2014.

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho (1988)

A reread for a book club that I’m no longer a member of*. I enjoyed the first half or so of this book, but the latter parts descended into a turgid midden-heap of woo-tinged solipsism especially the points where Santiago must “become the wind”. Also, you have to admit the existential crises that Santiago encountered are all pretty light weight. So find and read the book that adds in some stiffer existential crises and excises out half the woo, before you quit your job and set off to live your dream of being a professional mountain climber.

Lock In – John Scalzi (2014)

John Scalzi’s probably one of the best writers at the moment for taking an SFnal idea, presenting it clearly, and joining it to a simple forward moving plot. In this novel we have a near future America dealing with the aftereffects of a neurological disease that leaves its victims paralyzed, but mentally sound, and the subsequent rise of robotics that allows them to enter into society. There’s a lot of walking around and ‘splaining punctuated by gunfights or attacks to move the plot alone, and I’m not much of a fan of cop shows, which in this case is making a bug out of what’s likely a feature for other people, but an enjoyable read overall.

Elysium – Jennifer Marie Brissett (2014)

An AI seeks to understand itself and the story of how it lost its mate.

Possibly one of the more ambitious debut novels I’ve read, at least in SFF. Elysium proceeds from fragmentation to unity over a constantly shifting pattern of times and places. It avoids confusion by having similar characters and circumstances appear over and over again, so that there’s a layering effect to provide stability for the experience. It’s a bit like Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style mixed with a Michael Moorcock Eternal Champion novel. This is the novel that I wish Ancillary Justice was: playful and fast-moving while abrupt and ambitious in its development. There’s a lot to grasp here, and a lot left unexplained, or at least a lot left for the reader to figure out on their own, but the journey is worth it.

Good on Aqueduct Press for publishing this and giving genre a place for more experimental work to find a home.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (1857)

What a crazy book! For much of it I had hopes that Jane would take an axe to all the other characters and run off with a pirate, but despite that not happening, the ending was satisfying (yes, I know all about the Jane Slayre book).

Here’s a story: I’ve got this acquaintance that’s in a writing group. One day one of the members, a woman, turned in a story for critique that riffed on something in Jane Eyre. Every other woman at the table got the reference and got the riff right away, while every man at the table was lost and confused, because they had never read Jane Eyre. And so the decision to read it. Now Neil Gaiman’s work now makes sense to me!

But yeah, Jane’s your hapless orphan left to be raised by cruel relatives, who she totally tells off while still 10 years old, and out of revenge they send her to a horrible boarding school where life is strict and cruel, but Jane flourishes and survives to the age of 18 despite the cholera/typhoidfever/tuberculosis epidemics, at which time she sets out to find her place in the world by answering an ad for a governess on Craigslist. Boy, could I relate to all that! Once employed and nurturing a french opera singer’s abandoned child, she meets her employer, Mr. Rochester, who’s cut whole cloth from one of Lord Byron’s old suits, and which means he looks like Gabriel Byrne because I too watched Ken Russel’s Gothic. I won’t spoil the rest of it for you, but if you’ve ever seen Nicholas Cage screaming about how he lost his hand in between making pizzas, well, let’s just say that’s the direction we’re heading in.

Anyways, apologies for the above, that second cup of tea kicked in. I think my point’s that Jane Eyre‘s a gendered book that women read and men don’t, unless forced to for class. Yes, I’m sure you will tell me I’m wrong in the comments.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I read 78 books in 2014.

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* I joined the book club to get recommendations from outside my comfort zone. Unfortunately, the median age of members is 24, and an unread 24 at that. All they recommend are the books they should have read in college. And the fact that I have an opinion about what people should have already read, plus finding a few of the recent regulars annoying as hell, makes me realize the problem’s less them and more me, so, yeah, goodbye book club, you were fun for a bit.

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5 responses to “December Books”

  1. asakiyume says :

    I’ll definitely have to check out Elysium; thanks for the rec. And Aqueduct really is an awesome publisher.

    • Justin says :

      Yeah, I’ve read other stuff by them and enjoyed it. They published a Rick Bowes collection and some interesting fantasy novels.

  2. Gord Sellar says :

    There’s some great-looking stuff here.

    And yeah… book clubs are hard for people who actually read, in my experience, and would only be harder in expat-land, where, you know, there’s a smaller population from which to form such groups anyway. 🙂

    • Justin says :

      Thanks for being my only non-spam comment in the past few days! And I agree.

      • Gord Sellar says :

        Ha, I should clarify that by “great-looking stuff” I mostly meant Elysium, in this post anyway.

        Not sure about the rest (Jihyun’s take on the Coelho is that it’s a “deep book” for people who don’t think much — “Hollywood deep” is the term she sometimes uses).

        I’m interested in this idea of gendered books. I’ve always sort of thought that might be true for a book like Jane Eyre — which I’ve never actually read because I expected not to care for it. I tried to talk someone into running a Werewolf: The Apocalypse RPG set basically in that milieu, because the pent-up rage, rage, RAGE of being some young woman facing all those pressures would surely make for a hell of a W:TA campaign: running off into the moors and hunting beasts, returning by the dawn, bloodied and naked, to wash and change and turn up for breakfast with mummy & daddy and discuss the plans for the ball…

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