03/2017

These are the books I read in March,  2017 –   18 books total – (a bit above average). Of these 18,   4  were general fiction,  3 were classics,   4 were crime novels,  2 were science fiction,  3 were non-fiction and,  stretching my horizons,  1 book was poetry and 1 was Christian lit.    There were also 6 women authors and 1 translation (Norwegian).

GENERAL FICTION

Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders
2017 / 367 pages
read by a whole cast 7h 25m
Rating:   9.25  –  contemp historical fiction 

** Brilliant mostly fictional exploration of Abraham Lincoln and his son Willie who died in 1862 – mid Civil War.   The “Bardo” is the first stage of the afterlife.
*********

Exit West
by Mohsin Hamid
2016 / 340 pages
read by Mohsin Hamid 4h 42m
Rating:   9  / contemp lit
** Two young lovers join forces in escaping (Syria?) to become refugees in several places.  Stylish,  haunting,  somewhat disturbing.
*******

The Light of Day 
by Graham Swift
2003 / 323 pages
Read by Graeme Malcolm 7h 5m
Rating:  8.5,  B+  / literary crime 
(read and listened)
** Private detective tries to reconstruct what happened that he’s now visiting his client, who only wanted him to follow her cheating husband,  in jail.  Interesting but very little tension.  
*******

The Muralist
by B.A. Shapiro
2015 / 368 pages
read by Xe Sands 9h 9m
Rating:   7  / contemp fiction/historical WWII
** Young woman artist in contemporary New York City seeks her great aunt who was also an artist in New York but disappeared during WWII.  Great aunt apparently influenced some of the greats of the Abstract Impressionist movement artists (Polluck,  Rothco),  but her Jewish family was in Europe and Hitler was closing in.  Alternating chapters for the characters and times.

*******

CLASSICS
The Growth of the Soil
by Knut Hamsun –  translated – 
1917 / 366 pages (Kindle) 
Read by Greg W. at LibriVox
Rating:  10 / classic (Norwegian)
(read and listened)
** Knut Hamsun’s most famous work advocates the superiority of the agrarian life in rural Norway at the turn of the century.  I read and listened to  this very slowly and kind of studied it – making chapter notes and really relishing the literary qualities and the times of the novel.
*******

Piccadilly Jim
by P.G. Wodehouse 
1917 / 165 pages (Kindle) 
read by Frederick Davidson  – 8h 14m
Rating:   5 (out of 10) /  humor-romance
(read and listened)
** Silly – “zany”  “romp” of mistaken identities.   I did laugh a few times.  I’m told to try Wodehouse again as this is not his best.
*******

The Left Hand of Darkness
by Ursula LeGuin
1969/ 304 pages
read by George Guidal  9h 39m
Rating:    5 / literary sci-fi fantasy
** Difficult going for me  as I’m not a fantasy fan.   But Ursula LeGuin has temped me forever.  The tale consists primarily of a description of a future or faraway world on which our protagonist is stuck.  The inhabitants aren’t distinguished by gender and there is no war.  They can read thoughts. The main theme is Dualism vs oneness:    “Light is the left hand of darkness and the two are one”  is an idea from Taoism.   The ideas might have been mind-expanding back in the 1970s,  not so much now.

*******

CRIME
The Old Man 
by Thomas Perry 
2017 / 352 pages
read by Peter Berkrot 11h 13m
Rating:  B+
** Fun –  tension packed thriller of a man who is professionally off the grid and in hiding from both criminal and government elements-

*******

Say No More 
by Hank Phillippi Ryan 
2016/ 382 pages
read by Xe Sands  10h 50m
Rating:   A+   /  crime – procedural
** This is 4th in the Jane Ryan series –  Ryan is a news reporter with a detective boyfriend.  They find themselves working on the same murder case.  Campus rape and truth telling is also a huge theme.  Interesting use of multiple points of view from nicely drawn and believable characters.  Good tension building using a variety of  devices,   clever plot twists,  a real sleep-snatcher and I’ll likely be going back to #1 and doing the series.
*******

All Things Cease To Appear 
by Elizabeth Brundage
2017 –  466 pages
Read by Kristen Potter
Rating:  7,  B+  / literary crime
Lots of crime but not so much a mystery as an exploration of psyches as a small young professional family moves into a farm home where a murder- suicide was committed and the children of that couple survive.   Good tension.  Art plays an important part again.
*******

The Girl in the Ice
by Robert Bryndza (British)
2016/ 394 pages
read by Jan Cramer 10h 7m
Rating:   A-   crime (procedural) 
(#1 in the Erica Foster series)
After three prostitutes have been murdered a fourth victim is found and she’s in no way a prostitute but rather from high end society,  a young woman with a very active life including a career and upcoming marriage.  

*******

SCIENCE FICTION

New York 2140
by Kim Stanley Robinson
2017 / 613 pages  
read by Suzanne Toren plus cast
Rating: 8, A / literary sci-fi – economics
(stand-alone)
Climate change induced dystopia in which New York City is submerged under water to various degrees.   But life goes on as usual,  capitalists still rule.   The story-line concerns a group who live at the old MetLife building.  Skywalks, roof-top apartments and water vehicles abound.  Literary allusions abound and there are a couple of interesting economic themes – what is value and who creates it?  Also themes of love and alienation.  Wonderful characters.  The polemic sometimes slows down the action.
*******

Under the Dome
by Stephen King
2009 /  1074 pages
read by Raul Esparza 34h 29m
Rating:   A /  sci-fi
Dystopian scenario in which a town in upstate Maine has been enclosed in some kind of high-tech bubble.  Many were killed when it suddenly arrived.  The residents can’t get out and the outsiders can’t get in.  Power struggles ensue and King is making a point about humanity.

*******

CHRISTIAN
A Proper Pursuit

by Lynn Austen
2007 / 432 pages
read by Jennifer Ikeda 16h 10m
Rating:   6 (for fun)/ light historical fiction/romance  – (Christian)
Not my usual fare but my mom (strongly) recommended it and it was  pretty fun. Set in Chicago during the 1893 Exposition where youngish Violet Hayes has a certain resemblance to the protagonist of Northanger Abbey in that reading romances colors her perception of the real world – coming up with murders and such what.   The religious part was there, but I was able to skim that.   The author has a flare for tension and characters.  The plot was rather predictable but  it was a nice book and I’m glad my mom enjoyed it.  (She’s 93 – reads on a Kindle.)

*******

NONFICTION
The Hidden Life of Trees:  What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World
by Peter Wohllenben
read by Mike Grady  7h 33m 

2016 /  288 pages
Rating:   8.75
(read 1x, and listened 2x)
** Weird book but completely satisfying if you are able to get into the idea.  Trees are more like humans than we think.  They have a language of sorts,  memory,  and,  in the right settings,  a complex social structure.   This sounds rather bizarre and it feels a bit touchy-feelie for botany or forestry.   But that’s what it is –  Wohllenben just takes it a bit further – to the Wood Wide Web.  I first listened to the whole thing but I felt like I only “got it” in the last few chapters.  So I got the Kindle version and went through it again,  both listening and reading,   letting myself drift with the ideas instead of fighting them –  brilliant book but it takes some work to really appreciate.

*******
American Genocide:  The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873
by Benjamin Madley
2016 / 712 pages
read by Fajir Al-Kaisi  15h 43m
Rating:   10 /  history (Native American)
(read and listened)
This is one hard book to read!   And I knew a lot of California history prior – it’s the specific subject matter which is emotionally draining.    California’s native population was halved between the Spanish mission era and the Gold Rush.  And then in the following 25 years (1849 to 1871)  it was deliberately reduced to only 20% of that – this is about 10% of the original numbers.    The main problem was there was no place left to remove the Indians to.  Going by contemporary definitions this kind of killing amounts to genocide and that’s the point of this immaculately well documented work.   I got kind of tired of reading the details of massacre after massacre and the legal shenanigans and so on.  We have a lot of native Americans living in California today,  but our many reservations are tiny.   The Natives these days are pretty much all immigrants.   Very sad book

*******

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit
by Michael Finkel 
2017 / 224 pages
read by Mark Bramhall 6h 19m
Rating:   9  / true crime – biography/memoi
Christopher Knight was arrested in 2013  after spending 27+ years as a “hermit” at a personal camp in central Maine.   He had stolen what he needed to live (that’s the big “true crime” here,  nothing else.  He had virtually no contact with people for that entire time.  Knight disappeared in 1986 and was captured in 2013 while committing a burglary.  Wow.  This is  his story.  (Bramball was fired from the New York Times for falsifying sources –  he’s very, very careful with this one.)

*******

POETRY
Citizen: An American Lyric 

by Claudia Rankine  (a poet)
2014 / 160 pages
read by Allyson Johnson 1h 37m
Rating:   very literary essays  – 
(read and listened)

Part poetry,  part essay,  part snippets of fiction with little photographs  –  beautifully rendered meditation mostly on race in America.

“Perhaps this is how racism feels no matter the context—randomly the rules everyone else gets to play by no longer apply to you, and to call this out by calling out “I swear to God!” is to be called insane, crass, crazy.  Bad sportsmanship.”

Rankine, Claudia (2014-10-07). Citizen: An American Lyric (Kindle Locations 196-198). Graywolf Press. Kindle Edition.

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