November Reading Thread

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Toby Frost

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Dixie City Jam by James Lee Burke

This is one of those novels that feel like a violent fever dream, like A Rage In Harlem or Green River Rising. It's full of bizarre and grotesque characters fighting over a sunken German submarine outside New Orleans. I tend to think that, outside WW2 stories, including Nazis is a sign that things have got a bit desperate (see also Breaking Bad) but Burke has something to say about fascism and greed. It was written in the 90s, but some of the comments about politics in the novel feel very timely today. The hero, Dave Robicheaux, is one of those crime heroes who can do virtually anything, and he philosophises too much, but if you accept that this book is about weird people doing crazy stuff, it's pretty readable. The trouble is that you have to buy into its strange world - brutal, bizarre and occasionally sentimental - in the first place.
 

Orcadian

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I'm trying something different from my usual "space battles" class of reading. Joseph Campbell The hero with a thousand faces, it's quite literary so far but very interesting.
I read parts of a book by Joseph Campbell on the nature of myth in the 1980s. I recall being inpressed, though I wasn't able to give it the thought it deserved because I was writing up at the time!

Reading the Wikipedia entry @Danny McG points us to, I am struck by how similar is the trope of the 'hero's journey' to the life of one Joshua bar Joseph, better known to some of us as Jesus Christ. To quote the Wiki writer:
"The hero's adventure begins in the ordinary world, [from where] he must depart when he receives a call to adventure. ... The hero will embark on a road of trials, where he is tested. ... [He] is sometimes assisted by allies [and as he] faces the ordeal, he encounters the greatest challenge of the journey. Upon rising to [it], the hero will receive a reward [and there will be] a metaphorical death and resurrection. [He] must then decide to return ... to the ordinary world. ... [where his] gift may be used to improve [it]".

I had not thought of the legend of Jesus in that way but I'm intrigued by the idea that it is a typical 'hero adventure' myth. In that way it parallels the flood story told in the Old Testament, which is itself a trope - a retelling of a far more ancient (and widespread) myth.
 

Randy M.

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I've only read Heaven's Prisoners by Burke, and the prose was terrific, but he hit some plot points that felt too generic. I accept things like that from Chandler and Hammett, and even Ross Macdonald because they were writing hardboiled/noir early on in its development, but Burke is relatively recent and it seemed lazy to me. Something similar nearly sank Girls by Frederick Busch, but the subject matter, distressing as it was, saved that book for me.
 

Steve Harrison

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I'm enjoying Kings and Queens, compiled by Iain Dale, a collection of essays, each about the kings and queens of England since Alfred the Great. (Alfred was never king of all England, but things kicked off from him!)

Added bonus is that two writer friends, Annie Whitehead (Eadred) and Paula Lofting (Edmund Ironside), wrote essays for the book.
 

kythe

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I just finished "A Canticle for Leibowitz" by Walter M. Miller, Jr. This was an interesting read not long after I had revisited "The Chrysalids" by John Wyndham. Though different stories, they almost could take place in the same world.

This was an unusual story and I'm not sure what I think of it. It is very philosophical and emphasizes the repeated mistakes of history. Some of the events of the story probably did happen in different times and places in history, but this is intertwined with miraculous events worked into the story in a way that feels jarring rather than blended. There is much theological battle between science and Christianity, which accurately reflects society today. The Latin can get tedious as I don't understand much of it and there is little translation, so I feel I'm missing something.

Overall, I feel this paints a bleak picture of humanity, though realistic in the sense that we fight the same "battles" over and over.
 

Parson

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I've finished System Collapse: The Murderbot Diary #7 by Martha Wells. I started this book and was having a hard time understanding what was going on, so I read Fugitive Telemetry (#6) to help pick up the thread. It didn't, but it did remind me of what I love so much about this series. And then I got this: (*Thanks @Elentarri)
System Collapse is the tail end of Network Effect. Fugitive Telemetry takes place before Network Effect. I would really recommend refreshing yourself on Network Effect before reading System Collapse. Just my opinion.
Skimming Network Effect was just what the Dr. ordered.

So, overall, this was a good not a great story. The main problem is that it took too long to find it's stride. Maybe now I know why Martha Wells wrote novellas for most of this series. I think you could tell a much more interesting story if you sliced the first third or so of the book out. Now, once the story gets going it is the kind of story I like. From my perspective this is a story where the Murderbot is finding her (I can't but think of the Murderbot as female, although sex is not part of any the stories.) way in a new and utterly foreign place, and also maturing into a more full fledged individual.

Avoid --- Not Recommended --- Flawed --- Okay --- Good --- Recommended --- Shouldn’t be Missed
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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During my week away from the computer I finished the Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy by Flora Thompson, then her posthumous works Heatherly (written 1944; not published until 1979) and Still Glides the Stream (written 1947[the year she died]?; published 1948.) The first one is a direct sequel to the trilogy, with the lightly fictionalized main character (the author) taking a position with a different post office in rural England around the year 1900. The second one has a different lightly fictionalized main character who returns to her home village just after the Second World War and thinks back to how things were around the year 1900.

I also flipped through some coffee table books (a guide to various species of deer [tons of information, but I just looked at the pictures]; photographs of weird animals; and photographs of tiny organisms.) I also read a biography of Ogden Nash.

I have started, in tandem, a couple of works of very light reading.

The Great Book of Math Teasers (paperback retitling of hardcover Math Teasers: Mental Gymnastics) which is a translation (and possibly abridgement) from German of Mathematische Denkspiele: Gripsgymnastik - Probleme und Lösungen (1986) by Robert Müller-Fonfara (the 1989 English language version leaves out "-Fonfara" in the author's name) translated by Elisabeth E. Reinersmann.

A slim book of little puzzles like "How long would it take 100 storks to catch 100 frogs, when five storks need five minutes to catch five frogs?"

Five minutes.

The other book, with which I will alternate the one above, is The Book of Psalms Pslams: 97 Divine Diatribes on Humanity's Total Failure by God with Jesus and the Holy Ghost, as Dictated to David Javerbaum (2012). It offers several satirical attacks on the human species in the voice of the triune deity.
 

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I finally finished reading The Shining and I was left very impressed by it. I don’t read a lot of horror novels and the only reason I read this one was when I discovered how much Stephen King dislikes Kubrik’s movie adaptation. It’s a film I quite like so my interest was piqued by this discovery.

After reading the book, I can see why King wasn’t happy but, in Kubrik’s defence, I think the book simply would not translate well into a cinematic experience as it was. For me, the main thing was the depth of characterization within the novel. How do you translate the internal workings of a mind into an understandable visual spectacle whilst still retaining the same flesh and bones of the novel for the movie watcher? I can see why Kubrik decided to reflesh to a certain extent.

Overall, I think we are lucky that we have both an outstanding novel and a very fine movie to entertain us.

Getting back to the book - the other quality of The Shining that really struck me was the way King balances the internal descent into madness with the external supernatural menace. He does this with the deft of a master craftsman, making it look easy but, in reality, I suspect, it is a very difficult thing to do. You are never completely sure whether certain events are all in their heads, all real, or somewhere in between. Likewise with some decisions taken by the characters – are they the product of a free will or guided by a malevolent force? As before, probably somewhere in between.

It is this uncertainty principle that King deploys with such aplomb that provides the simple truth that The Shining is a triump in Horror writing and the only uncertainty I’m left with is why it took me so long to get around to reading this book.
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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I am about to start How to Kill an Earworm and 500+ Other Psychology Facts You Need to Know (2023) by Jana Louise Smit. It's one of those modern nonfiction books with lots of sidebars scattered among the main text. Quick quizzes, too. Should be informative.
 
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