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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Midnight's Children

Here's my review of Midnight’s Children, next will be Robots and Empire, Up from Slavery, and Lonesome Dove.

Midnight's Children, published in 1981, looks at India's transition from British colonialism to independence through the lens of historical fiction.  It also has heavy elements of magical realism.  The book focuses on the events leading up to and comprising the life of Saleem Sinai, who was born at the very moment that India became an independent state.  Saleem finds himself a member of a group of children possessing powers.  These were the children born in the first hour of India's independence; the closer to the stroke of midnight, the greater the gift.  The book has received a fair amount of acclaim.  Personally, I could take it or leave it.  I say that understanding that my ignorance of Indian culture and history probably made it so that a good amount of of the book's content went right over my head.


Friday, December 2, 2016

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Here's my review of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, next will be Midnight’s Children, Robots and Empire, and Up from Slavery.

This was an interesting but fairly short read.  Unfortunately, the work was far from complete.  The first part is a letter about his childhood that he wrote to his son when he found a free week at the age of 65.  The later parts were were written in his mid-70s and later.    His work was slower and less detailed as he got older.  He ultimately only recounted his life up to 1757, missing the last 30 years of his life and the American Revolution.  It certainly would have been fascinating to read his perspective of those years, but the Autobiography remains a worthwhile read.  It is, in fact, often considered to be one of the best and most influential autobiographies every written.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Robots of Dawn

Here's my review of The Robots of Dawn, next will be The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Midnight’s Children, and Robots and Empire.

Much like the Dune series, I don't have a lot to say about books in this series that I haven't already said about earlier books.  Unlike the Dune series, I don't view these books as having an enormous drop off in qualify after the first one.  I enjoyed Caves of Steel more than the two books I've read that followed it, but they were still good.  Once again, Elijah Bailey is given the task of solving an impossible mystery on a world he knows nothing about assisted by his robot friend.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Anna Karenina

Here's my review of Anna Karenina, next will be Robots of Dawn, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and Midnight’s Children.

Anna Karenina is considered by a good number of critics and writers to be the best novel ever written.   I wouldn't go that far.  In fact, I didn't like it as much as the first Tolstoy book I read, War and Peace, but I did generally enjoy it.  I do have a major gripe with the edition of Anna Karenina that I read (it's the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition).  In the introduction, without any warning and completely casually, it drops a major spoiler.  There is no single fact about the story that would be more inappropriate to tell someone about to read it than the one disclosed in the introduction and I honestly can't comprehend why anyone would decide it was a good idea to mention it.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918

My latest book was A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918.  I'm currently reading Anna Karenina and next up is The Robots of Dawn.  After that, I'd really like to read a book that provides a good overview of World War II like A World Undone does for first world war.  Very brief research seems to indicate that A World at Arms will be my best bet, but I'm very open to thoughts on that book or other options.

I'll be honest: I could probably count the number of things I knew about WWI prior to reading this book on one hand.  World history has never been my strong suit, but I don't feel that this is an event that receives the attention it might deserve in history classes, particularly in the United States.  One of the most obvious reasons is that it was so quickly eclipsed.  Only two decades later WWII dwarfed WWI in pretty much every respect.  It certainly did so with regard to duration, geographic scope, and casualties.  More specifically to the US, we entered the war late, so our participation and its impact on us were fairly minimal, at least relative to the major participants.  Reading through this book, which I would highly recommend, I found the history fascinating and a number of lessons available to those who would care to learn them.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Naked Sun

My latest book was The Naked Sun. Next up are A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, Anna Karenina, and The Robots of Dawn.

The Naked Sun is the second novel in Isaac Asimov's robot series. I didn't like it quite as much as the first book, Caves of Steel, but it was still an enjoyable read.  Like Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun is a whodunit about a human detective from Earth forced to work with a robot as a partner.  Like Asimov's earlier short stories, it focuses heavily on on his so-called laws of robotics.  Overall, it was an enjoyable story that I'd recommend to anyone who likes mysteries or science fiction and can at least tolerate the other genre.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Sun Also Rises

My latest book was The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Next up are The Naked Sun, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918, and Anna Karenina.

The Sun Also Rises is the first book where I have to admit that I just fundamentally did not get it.  It didn't seem to be about anything.  It was like watching Seinfeld, but without the slightest attempt at humor.  I kept waiting for something to happen, and it never did.  It was basically a bunch of wealthy people having incredibly awkward conversations while eating and drinking, in between napping, fishing, watching bull fights, travelling, and more napping.  I didn't mind the book.  It was a relatively quick read.  I just felt like I might be reading someone's journal rather than a published work that's considered a classic.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

My latest book was Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.  Next up are The Sun Also Rises, The Naked Sun, and A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918.

I enjoyed this book, but it was also fairly depressing and very sad at times.  Unbroken tells the story of  Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who finds himself a prisoner of the Japanese during World War Two.  This reminded me of Endurance, the story of Ernest Shackleton, who, with his crew, was trapped on a sheet of ice adrift in Antarctic seas.  Both books show people enduring things beyond what seems possible as they face ever-increasing obstacles, even when it seems like things can't get any worse.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Friday, August 26, 2016

Caves of Steel

My latest book was Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov.  Next up are Unbroken, The Sun Also Rises, and The Naked Sun.

I liked this book.  Caves of Steel was the first novel of Isaac Asimov's Robot series, which consists of 5 novels and 38 short stories published over several decades.  Many of these stories, Caves of Steel included, combine the science fiction Asimov is known so well for with a classic whodunit mystery.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

An American Tragedy

An American Tragedy was the latest book on my list of classics.  Next up are Caves of Steel, Unbroken, and The Sun Also Rises.

Despite its fairly depressing contents, I really enjoyed this book.  An American Tragedy combines elements of true crime, romance, and legal drama.  It is, at times, fairly dark, with themes touching on class, religion, murder, capital punishment, and abortion, among many others.  At other times, it's like an early twentieth century combination of Trading Places and 10 Things I Hate About You with a little Mean Girls mixed in.   I generally try to avoid spoiling books in my reviews, but I don't feel like I can adequately delve into this novel without revealing a great deal of the plot, which I do below the break.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

At 1,424 pages, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 was my longest book yet.  I actually split it into two parts so that I wouldn't become too demoralized.  Altogether, it took me 56 days to finish.  I learned a lot.  As for whether I enjoyed it, it varied quite a bit.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Robot Dreams and Robot Visions

My latest books were Robot Dreams and Robot Visions by Isaac Asimov.  The next books I'll be posting reviews for are Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, An American Tragedy, and Caves of Steel.

Having read the six Dune books written by Frank Herbert, I'm now moving on to Isaac Asimov.  My plan is to read the 16 books he wrote that deal with robots or are part of the Foundation series. I started off with Robot Dreams and Robot Visions, which are the latest of several compilations of Asimov's short stories.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

1 Year of Reading

Today marks my 365th consecutive day of reading for at least half an hour. Finishing An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser today puts my book total for the year at 27 with a total page count of 16,233. While that puts me at only a little over two books a month for the year, the distribution has definitely not been even. The six books that I spent the most time reading took over six months altogether. That puts me at three and a half books per month for the other half of the year.

Some books were definitely more enjoyable than others. I think I'd have to say that, among the "classic" books that I read, War and Peace was my favorite, with the Count of Monte Cristo in a close second. My favorite non-fiction book was Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage. In science fiction I've only just recently moved onto Isaac Asimov's works, starting with his books of short stories about robots. So Dune remains at the top of that list, though I wish I had foregone its many sequels.

 I definitely plan to keep going for the foreseeable future. I still have 91 classics on the list I compiled and I am planning to read all 16 of Isaac Asimov's books that deal with robots or are in his Foundation series. My list of non-fiction books, however, is pretty short, so I am always looking for recommendations there.

 You can see my full book list here. I am still working on posts for Robot Dreams, Robot Visions, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, and An American Tragedy.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Sound and the Fury

My latest book was  The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.  Next up are Robot Dreams, the second part of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, and An American Tragedy.

The Sound and the Fury tells the story of a family in early-1900s Mississippi failing to cope with their steep decline from aristocracy to poverty.  It is not an easy read or one I'd describe as enjoyable, as it's fairly depressing.    It is, nevertheless, an important book that I'm glad I read.  It provides a look into the working of minds generally and the minds of the troubled characters specifically.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Chapterhouse: Dune

My latest book was  Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert, Next up are Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898The Sound and the Fury, and Robot Dreams.

This was the sixth and final Dune novel by the author of the original story.  While I found this better than some of the earlier books, it was not good enough to redeem a series which, after the first entry, quickly became inaccessible and monotonous.  Once again, I was left observing characters talking incessantly about how important it is that they keep their plans secret without finding out what the plans actually are until the very last moment.  I couldn't help the feeling that the author himself didn't know until that point either.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Recognitions

My latest book was  The Recognitions by William Gaddis.  Next up are Chapterhouse: Dune, The Education of Henry Adams, and The Sound and the Fury.

It's not easy to describe this book, and I mean that on couple of different levels.  There's no simple way to summarize the plot and my feelings cannot be described as simple like or dislike.  When it was published, most reviews of the book were negative.  While many people, the author foremost among them, have gone to great lengths to castigate the critics who didn't like the book, I can certainly understand why it got such a poor reception.  It's like the author came up with an interesting story with compelling characters but felt a pretentious need to make it as difficult to read as possible in order to be artsy.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

My latest book was  Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing.  Next up are The Recognitions, Chapterhouse: Dune, and The Education of Henry Adams.

I really had trouble putting this book down, finishing it in only four days.  Endurance, named for Shackleton's ship, tells the true story of an expedition that intended to be the first to ever traverse Antarctica only to go horribly awry.   The account amounts to the most powerful look into mankind's ability to cope, adapt, survive and endure that I've ever had.  Of the 28 men on that ship, only 6 were supposed to disembark in Antarctica to make the journey.  But when the ice unexpectedly trapped and eventually crushed their ship, all of them were trapped on an ice floe without a real plan to get to land or hope of being rescued.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


My latest book was Beloved by Toni Morrison.  Next up are Heretics of Dune, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, and The Recognitions.

To be honest, before reading this book, I only had a general conception of Toni Morrison as an author concerned with feminism and racial justice, so I certainly expected those to be themes.  What I wasn't expecting was for this to essentially be a Stephen King novel wrapped in those themes.  In my first half hour of reading, I encountered ghosts, infanticide, bestiality, rape, and descriptions of sex that I found fairly creepy.  Each of these elements recur throughout the novel.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


My latest book was 1776 by David McCullough, recommended to me by my mother.  Next up are Beloved, Heretics of Dune, and Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage.

1776 tells the story of the colonial forces rebelling against King George were able to stave off complete defeat, despite being completely outmatched in numbers, training, supplies, and money.  It is very much a military history with a laser focus.  While the Revolutionary War was really just beginning, the book concludes at the end of its eponymous year.  It was certainly a good read, but I would love suggestions for a book that covers the entire War.

Monday, March 14, 2016

God Emperor of Dune

I finished God Emperor of Dune yesterday.  Next up are 1776, Beloved, and Heretics of Dune.

God Emperor of Dune if the fourth of the six Dune books written by Frank Herbert. I won't call it a disappointment, but only because my expectations have steadily lowered along with my enjoyment of each book.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Count of Monte Cristo

I've now finished the Count of Monte Cristo.  Next up are God Emperor of Dune, 1776 and Beloved.

The Count of Monte Cristo was written by French author Alexandre Dumas and originally published in a serialized format in 1844 and 1845.  The unabridged translation I read was anonymously published in 1846.  The book set in the early 19th century, during Napoleon's attempts to return from exile and is basically the classic archetypal revenge story. I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

200 Days!

Today I made it to 200 straight days reading a book for at least half an hour each day!  By just fulfilling that small commitment I made to myself in August, I've already been able to complete all of these books:

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Why I love my Kindle

Coming up on my 200th day reading, I wanted to do a post on why I love my Kindle, including some pretty cool features I've only recently found.

Most people are aware of the basic benefits of ebook readers. You can buy a book anywhere you have wi-fi and have it instantly. They let you take a whole library with you in a compact form. Most of the time this is just convenient, but I've done a good amount of reading on planes. Reading some of the books that I've done (e.g. War and Peace, Infinite Jest, and Don Quixote) on a plane would have been absurd. In fact, some people cut Infinite Jest into three parts to make it portable. Additionally helpful with Infinite Jest was how it handles end notes. You can click on them and read them inline without flipping back and forth. This doesn't work on all books, Lolita's notes weren't indicated in the text, for some reason.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Children of Dune

Yesterday I finished Children of Dune. Next up are Contre Saint-Beuve, the Count of Monte Cristo, and God Emporer of Dune.

I was disappointed with this book. I have to agree with friends who told me that the sequels aren't as good as the first book. I greatly enjoyed Dune. I reserved judgement on Dune Messiah because it seemed to mainly be a lead up to Children of Dune.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Invisible Man

Today I finished Invisible Man. Next up are Children of Dune, Contre Saint-Beuve, and the Count of Monte Cristo.

To be clear, I read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, not The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. The latter is a pretty creepy science fiction story, while the former is a disturbing and, at times, confusing look at the conditions faced by African Americans in the early 20th century. It is only a coincidence, but an appropriate one, that I’m posting about it today, the first day of Black History Month.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Bully Pulpit

Today I finished The Bully Pulpit. Next up are Invisible Man, Children of Dune, and Contre Saint-Beuve.

The full title of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book is The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. I generally really enjoyed the book, although I feel like it took me forever to get through. It’s very accessible and easy to read through. The author conveys a large amount of detail, but in a conversational way and almost always makes clear why the details are relevant to the larger narrative. There are a few places where she goes a bit further into details about someone’s parents or grandparents than seems necessary or meaningful, but it’s not something that happens often.