Thursday, October 29, 2009

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

A science fiction novel about geometry, physics, metaphysics and monks. After the first 10-20 pages, which describe a lot of architecture, it's a pleasure to read. One night, I stayed up past my bedtime and read about 300 pages.

Sometimes, when I'm looking for books in a bookstore, I'll choose the longer one for no other reason than that it's longer. It feels a little shallow, picking a book for its length. I mean, any old author can write a thousand pages. But at the same time, I like to be entertained. That's the main reason I read. Other people have other reasons, but for me, it's entertainment. So the longer the book, the more entertainment I get. In fact, sometimes I justify my book purchases(in my head), by doing a hours entertained/dollar comparison. For movies, it's about 15 minutes per dollar. Video games vary between 20-60 minutes per dollar. A paperback book can be anywhere from an hour to 2 hours per dollar. Books really stretch that dollar.

Anyway, Anathem is based on a couple intriguing ideas, modifications to our world. The first is that there are large monasteries, where the monks study math/science instead of religion. The second is that contact with the world outside the monastery is staggered. There is a group that has its gates open daily, yearly, every ten years, every hundred years, every thousand years. As a social experiment, it brings up interesting ideas. For science fiction fans, I highly reccomend this book. If you have an interest in layman discussions of math and out there physics, this is a fun book to read. There's plenty of other stuff between those discussions, but if you don't like them, you'll have to do a lot of skipping. But for me, 5/5

Monday, October 26, 2009

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt

This is an autobiographical book about his career as a teacher.

Written in a quick story-telling style, the book recounts various vignettes from the classroom, and a few from outside of it. Each story is meant to point out something the author learned from a student, or group of students about how to reach, relate to and uplift them. Sometimes funny, many times glib, and often glorified, the stories seem to preach a very touchy-feely style of teaching. Personally, I have a hard time picturing myself in a class like his. I can't say for sure, but I think I would not have responded well. I had a French teacher who was somewhat like him. It was sure fun, but I need and needed more structure to prop up my poor organization/motivation skills. Freedom is great for kids with a desire to be creative, but I wanted to know what to do. My creativity is in how I solve problems, not in choosing what problems to solve. He acknowledges, in a passing way, that different teachers have different ways of beeing a "good" teacher, but I couldn't help but feel like he didn't really believe it.

2.5/5 There's nothing really wrong with this book, but I found that I didn't like the author at the end of it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

This is one of those books that you might read on a plane, or during a long car trip. There's not much character development, not much in the way of ethical dilemmas, just some plot and action. If you like science fiction, you'll find the entertainment in this book, but this is not one of those cross-genre books. 2/5

Having read a couple of his books now, I'm not sure why John Scalzi wins the awards he does. They're entertaining enough, but not at all thinking books. Some reviewers compare him to Heinlein, and I can see the tone being a little similar, but the content just isn't there. It's too fast-paced, too much like a commuter train ride. There's no scenery, no interesting stops, just utility stops for letting more people on.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I saw the movie first. For some people this is always a dilemma, which to see first, the movie or the book? I find that I am enough of a story glutton that I don't care. I often enjoy them without any need to compare to the book. Of course, a bad adaptation of a book will always be bad, but I never feel that either the movie spoils the book or the book spoils the movie.

5/5. I love the plot in this book. I love how well it ties into the title. Ian McEwan does a great job helping us to see inside the head of a 13 year old girl. He spends about half the book building up the reality, helping you to inhabit the environment, the characters, the family. I felt the relationships between the sisters, their brother, their mother, their distant father. I knew what it was like to grow up in this country manor, in a semi-respectable family.

I think I have understood a new thing about what I enjoy in a book. I enjoy being in the headspace of the characters. A little dialogue, a little setting, a little action(or even maybe a lot), a bit of history(real or fabricated), and a lot of ethical, dramatic tension. One way to get that ethical tension is through mental narration, and I like it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Scar

In continuing with this as my book blog, I just finished "The Scar" by China Mieville.

I give this 3/5. I found the world interesting, made up of a strange mix of legends from our world, and original creations and myths of this one. The setting is a little Industrial Revoution, a little Victorian Horror, but if that era lasted a few hundred years. Magic is a mixture of technology and the arcane. The ambiance is pretty engrossing, weird, dark, and fun.

The plot is dependent on its ability to surprise. And sometimes it succeeds. This is not the first book he's written in this world, so it's possible that he's created deeper characterizations, especially of Bellis, the main character. But without that characterization, the book relies on story twists and world descriptions to keep the reader engaged. There are a couple true emotions and characters to identify with, but they are few and far apart. Luckily, his world descriptions and plot devices are sufficient to entertain.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Shogun by James Clavell

So, I've decided this will be a book log. I'll write at least a little bit about each book after I read it.

Shogun is a historical novel about medieval Japan. The author uses a western character, an English Captain, or Pilot, to introduce us to the foreign culture and politics. At first, we see the Japanese as the Pilot does, an opaque, two-dimensional culture focused on violence and control. Gradually, he comes to see through the cultural barrier, and becomes a pawn in a very large game of chess, with warlords aiming to gain control of the empire as Shoguns.

I enjoyed the book. It began with a sea voyage, which I have found myself strangely drawn to recently, but then leaves the sea behind. The plans and gambits are interesting, and seem very Japanese, hinging on duty, honor, and garnering the admiration of the middle-level samurai by outplaying the opposition. Duty and honor are not black and white romantic notions, but sometimes merely the faces put on the gambits, not what you usually find in a samurai novel, and are probably much more realistic.

Very long, and I would have read it much quicker if it hadn't been for work acting up recently.