The Baroque Cycle

I finally finished it. FINALLY. It was like a freaking marathon.

Review c&p’d from Goodreads (and look, a link to my profile!)

The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3, Book 3) The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3, Book 3) by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review isn’t just about System of the World, but about the whole Baroque Cycle. The short version of the review is… I think he could have accomplished everything he set out to accomplish with these books in a third as much space. Finishing them felt like a test of endurance. I always have trouble keeping track of Stephenson’s characters and plotlines but, again, this time there were simply too many for me to have half a chance. I felt like I needed a flowchart and a timeline.

All of this sounds like I didn’t enjoy the books. I did. There were certainly characters I found very engaging (I loved Jack Shaftoe and Eliza; for the first two books I was downright bored by Daniel) and the historical context was compelling.

But… there was just. too. much.

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Wicked, take two, the book versus the musical

Apparently I first read Wicked before I started blogging about books. But I recently reread it because Matthew and I went to see the musical last month. And…

… I didn’t like it as much as I did the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the book but I kind of wish I hadn’t been immersed it when we saw the show. I got distracted by the changes, which are substantial. The subtitle of the musical is “The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz” so it’s much more Glinda-heavy than the book is. I honestly prefer Elphaba, I love the moral ambiguity of Elphaba.

I just discovered when I went looking for the link to post to the book that Maguire has written a third volume in the series: A Lion Among Men, which is the story of the cowardly lion. Given that I didn’t love Son of a Witch, though, I might give it a pass.

It’s not that I haven’t been reading and watching…

… I just haven’t been writing about it.

I read devoured Stieg Larsson‘s Millenium Trilogy over the summer and loved it.  Twists and turns worthy of Neal Stephenson, but without the multitude of interlocking plotlines.  I can’t even really review it adequately for fear of spoiling it for people who haven’t read it yet.  My one piece of advice is this: don’t start reading The Girl Who Played with Fire until you have a copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest handy, because you will want to proceed directly from one to the other without passing go or collecting $200.  I’m sad every time I think about the fact that Larsson died before he could write any more books about Lisbeth and Mikael.

Lucky for us, our local Red Box had the movie version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo right around the time I finished the trilogy.  It’s a powerful, powerful movie, upsetting and engrossing in all the same ways that the book is.  Matthew and I disagreed a bit about the casting.  I thought Noomi Rapace was perfect as Lisbeth; he thought she looked too old.

Then I moved on to Neal Stephenson‘s Anathem, which I loved.  It’s different than most of his previous fiction in that it doesn’t feature 5 or more plot lines intertwining and then ending up tied in a relatively pretty bow at the end of the book.  It completely blew my mind about 75% of the way through (the perils of readin e-books: page numbers, chapter numbers… all become meaningless) by exposing assumptions that I had made without even being aware that I was making them.  I thought the ending was too abrupt and tidy for how the rest of the book went.

Now I’m finally reading the Baroque Cycle.  Thus far I don’t love it nearly as much as Stephenson’s other fiction, but I do love the re-appearance of Enoch Root.  Perhaps I’ll make an effort to retrieve our copy of Cryptonomicon (or just replace it with an ebook version) to re-read next.

Kathy Reichs: Cross Bones

I admit it – I picked this up because I have a little bit… ok – a big bit – of an obsession with Bones the TV show.  Of course I was curious to find out if Temperance Brennan the book character (and, I suppose by extension Kathy Reichs) bears any resemblance to Temperance Brennan the TV character.  (The answer, by the way, is no.  Temperance Brennan in the books is FAR better-adjusted than Temperance Brennan in the TV show.  Amusingly, though, having now read one of the books, comments that get made on the TV show about TV Brennan’s novels make much more sense.)
Leaving all Bones-related curiosity aside, this was a fairly entertaining book in the academic-thriller mode.  The cover matter all compared it to Angels and Demons and/or The DaVinci Code and I suppose those comparisons are apt.  It’s a romp through Montreal and Jerusalem; since I have been to Masada, that angle of the book was especially entertaining to me.
Definitely a summer-beach-by-the-pool read.  I’ll seek out more Brennan novels for brain candy.

The Chronicles of Narnia

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read the first several Narnia books.  In fact, I’m quite certain that I’ve read all of them except The Last Battle more times than fingers.  I’m quite certain that I have only read The Last Battle three times.

When I was a kid I of course didn’t see the Christian allegory in these books.  Why would I have?  And really, it’s most present in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle.  Then I read them during college and felt like I’d been slapped in the face with it.

Now, having once again read the whole series front to back, I don’t feel slapped in the face with it.  It’s there, but it’s integrated so well into the fantasy of Narnia in general that… well, I can overlook it.  I still love the fantasy of it; The Horse and His Boy is still my favorite of the books.  And I can’t wait until the kid is old enough to appreciate them so we can read them together.

The Little House Books

When we were in OK over Thanksgiving, one of my tasks was to clean out the various boxes in my childhood room, as my parents are getting ready for retirement and that includes selling the house and moving to a different state.

I knew there were lots of children’s books in those boxes.  This included my box set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, which I distinctly remember saving my allowance for for a LONG TIME so that I could buy it at the school book fair.  I think it cost me $24.  And so I set about re-reading all of them, which took me a grand total of about 10 days.

And they’re exactly as I remember them.  As an adult who loathes moving, I’m kind of in awe of Pa’s wanderlust, and of Ma’s tolerance of it.  There were a couple of things I picked up on that I would never have noticed as a kid – in Little House in the Big Woods, Pa sings a song about a “darky”.  On a similar note, I remember wondering as a kid why there was never any mention of the Civil War in any of the books.  Maybe it just didn’t enter the consciousness of folks living in the woods of Wisconsin?

I can’t wait to read these with my own daughter, and see what her very 21st-century mind makes of a world so very different from her own.

Steve Lopez – The Soloist

Mom handed me The Soloist over Thanksgiving – one of her friends had just returned it.  I started reading it and simply could not put it down.  Like a lot of people, I hadn’t heard about the book until the movie (which I haven’t seen but I have heard it’s incredible) came out earlier this year.

The portrait that Lopez paints of Nathaniel Ayers is truly haunting.  The glimmers of brilliance that come through the veil of schizophrenia, only to be lost again.  It’s an unlikely friendship, and an interesting one.

I really did find myself questioning Lopez’s motives.  He wanted to help Nathaniel.  He wanted to call attention to the awfulness of Skid Row.  But did he really effect any larger change?  Would his efforts have been better-placed by focusing on something other than one individual?  Did Mayor Villaraigosa’s pledge to clean up Skid Row happen?  I don’t know; Lopez doesn’t tell us that part.  Beyond that, the ending feels unsatisfying, I want to know where Nathaniel is now.