Wednesday, October 29, 2014

For a Change, Let's Talk About Actual Books (Part 15)

Halloween is almost here, which means it's almost time for me to start thinking about costumes.  Like many adult men (not all... but I think "many" is fair), my general attitude towards Halloween costumes is "how little work can I put into this, while also not spending much if any money?"  Eh, I've got plenty of time; I'll probably start thinking about it come Thursday night.

Meanwhile, I'll think a bit about the books I'm currently reading.  Want to know what I read when I'm not reading ponyfic?  Click below the break to find out.

1914, by Jean Echenoz

What it is:  A tale of five Frenchmen who go off to fight in the Great War.

How I'm liking it so far:  As with many translated books, I have a little trouble telling what here is the doing of the translator and what is the author's; there's a bizarre blend of loving detail in the descriptions of vistas, animals, and contemporary paraphernalia, and bare-bones, distance from the main characters.  Often, those ideas would play well together in the context of showing the dehumanization of WWI, but I found the effect occasionally jarring in a bad way (while I can't deny its effectiveness at showing the obsession with numbers and data over individuals and their wants/needs, I also couldn't help but stumble over "a bullet travels 40 feet through the air at 3280 feet per second at an altitude of 2300 to enter the left eye of Nobles.").

Recommendation:  If you happen to speak French and wouldn't mind telling me how this stacks up in the original, I'd be interested to hear.  But even in its current form, I would definitely recommend this to people looking for a grim and effective tale of the early days of WWI.

Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan

What it is:  A novel about the young daughter of a wealthy Mexican family who's forced to flee with her mother to the Depression-era US, leaving everything behind.

How I'm liking it so far:  This is a book I'm using in class, and I don't usually count those as "for fun" reading.  But I was enjoying this enough that I've taken it home to finish on my own time, so I'm counting it.  This is a young adult novel, and it's unmistakably written for young adult audiences (there's not a lot of subtlety here, literarily (which should be a word) speaking).  But it's a powerful story that's easy to relate to, even if it is a bit predictable in its simplicity.

Recommendation:  This is really good YA historical fiction.  If YA and/or historical fiction aren't your thing, this isn't genre-breaking in either case... but the "really good" bit still applies.

The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, by Daniel J. Levitin

What it is:  A biological history of the six primary functions of music, and how they enabled human communication/society/cultures.

How I'm liking it so far:  This book is a little more science-y than the author's other famous book, This Is Your Brain On Music, which I've read before.  But it's still highly accessible, and makes an interesting case for how music, and the human brain's adaptations which encouraged it, influenced and even enabled the evolution of modern thought and language.

Recommendation:  I'm still on the second of the six types of songs ("joy"), so I'm not very far in yet.  But from what I've read so far, I'd definitely recommend this to someone interested by the premise and looking for some well-researched popular sci.

The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, by Will Cuppy

What it is:  A series of satirical mini-biographies of great figures throughout history.

How I'm liking it so far:  This book is absolutely hilarious, and I love the fact that I keep having to stop to look things up (I've taken to reading this with my smartphone out, so I can pester it with my questions).  Cuppy's humor is sharp and dry, and alternates between meticulously researched jokes that are sure to go over many readers head (with the bonus of making you feel smart when you get one without help), easy shots at incest, murder, and everything else the ancients (I'm still on the ancients) got up to, and name puns.  This is a dense read, but it's worth untangling.

Recommendation:  I highly recommend this to anyone who doesn't mind working for (some of) their jokes, or who likes to combine comedy with history in a way that goes deeper than the typical "goofy history."


  1. I am such a plebian. I'm re-reading "A Civil Campaign" by Lois McMaster Bujold for about the twelvth time.

  2. That last one sounds like something I'd enjoy

    Been meaning to get some non-pony reading done. I wanted to go through the old Appendix N list, but my local library doesn't have the best selection. Somehow they don't have any Robert E. Howard or Fritz Leiber, and they've only got one Edgar Rice Burroughs novel! Pretty sure we've got more scratched DVDs than actual books there

    1. One Burroughs novel? No Howard? I really hope that your local library is a small satellite to a larger regional one or something, because that's depressing.

    2. The catalogue (which is totally the correct spelling, Spell Checker!) is actually for eight different libraries in Ohio. I'm not sure what happened. I used to find tons of books there as a kid, but their site mostly just shows eAudioBooks and (scratched to Hell) movies now :'(

  3. American Halloween is weird. Dressing up as ghouls, goblins, witches, mummies, etc. I get – dressing up and an eclectic mix of anything for a laugh, not so much.

    Not that I pay any attention to Halloween over here, either :P

    1. If I remember correctly, wearing a costume was originally meant to deceive or ward off evil spirits. Going with something funny is just doing it Pinkie Pie style

  4. Man, I haven't read a real book in months, as Goodreads keeps reminding me. D:

  5. It's odd, but most of my non-pony reading nowadays seems to be YA. I blame the Kindle Daily Deal feature on Amazon. The regular fiction selections seem to be uniformly bland or clichéd, but the YA stuff often sounds intriguing. I will add Esperanza Rising to my list.


  6. The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody is flying over my head. Like, pretty much completely. I don't even know what the facts in the book are, if there are indeed any.


  7. I've been getting a steady stream of real books to read lately, now that I've started at university. Part of my creative writing module. Last week I got Tinkers by Paul Harding. It was a'ight.

  8. I'm now going to ask my mom to get me the decline and fall of practically everybody for Christmas. When I was a kid, there was this wonderful serious I already called horrible histories That was very similar in concept, except with illustrations and for kids. But still surprisingly honest about all the shit that went down back in the day.

    ~Super Trampoline