Well that was disappointing. I’ve read some of George Saunders’s short stories and was entertained, but I didn’t much enjoy Lincoln in the Bardo. It’s the story of Abraham Lincoln coming to the graveyard to visit his newly dead son William, told from the perspective of a variety of lost souls that don’t believe they’re dead. There was no plot to speak of, and none of the large cast of characters was appealing. I did enjoy the sections that were fictional quotes from contemporary histories, many of which contradicted each other on the details, and some of the characters told funny stories, but it didn’t hold together as a novel.
Widely acclaimed, winner of the Man Booker Prize, on many best of 2017 lists. Not my cup of tea.
Music I listened to while reading this:
- Carlow Town, Seamus Fogarty
- You’ve Got Tonight, Wiretree
It’s one day until The Tournament of Books announces the list of books for this year’s competition, and I’ve been reading some of the Long List, including the book commented on here, Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays. I throughly enjoyed it. The writing sparkles, the narrator is hilarously self-deprecating, and because of the premise, there is a lot of insightful commentary about contemporary society.
The main plot line is that the main character grew up in an alternative timeline where a device that produces free energy was invented in 1965 and put into the public domain. With free energy and fifty plus years, his world is something of a techonological utopia (especially compared with our present). However, for reasons best left unspoiled, he alters the timeline and is stuck here in our timeline with the rest of us.
The narrator on waking up for the first time in our timeline:
Here, it’s like nobody has considered using even the most rudimentary technology to improve the process. Mattresses don’t subtly vibrate to keep your muscles loose. Targeted steam valves don’t clean your body in slumber. I mean, blankets are made from tufts of plant fiber spun into thread and occasionally stuffed with feathers. Feathers. Like from actual birds.
While there’s a lot of science-fiction concepts in the story, it’s really more of a love story than what it sounds like it’d be. There were a couple plot points I probably would have written differently, but the book is really funny, touching and thoughful. I highly recommend it. Best book I’ve read in 2018 so far…
A couple other quotes I found particularly timely:
Part of the problem is this world is basically a cesspool of misogyny, male entitlement, and deeply demented gender constructs accepted as casual fact by outrageously large swaths of the human population.
People are despondent about the future because they’re increasingly aware that we, as a species, chased an inspiring dream that led us to ruin. We told ourselves the world is here for us to control, so the better our technology, the better our control, the better our world will be. The fact that for every leap in technology the world gets more sour and chaotic is deeply confusing. The better things we build keep making it worse. The belief that the world is here for humans to control is the philosophical bedrock of our civilization, but it’s a mistaken belief. Optimism is the pyre on which we’ve been setting ourselves aflame.
Music I listened to while reading this book:
- Jesus Christ, Brand New
- House of Cards, Radiohead
- Conundrum, Hak Baker
- Die Young, Sylvan Esso
- Feat & Force, Vagabon
- No War, Cari Cari
I’ve been a bit behind on mentioning the 2015 Tournament of Books. The contestants were announced last month. As usual, here’s the list with a three star rating system for those I've read: ☆ - not worthy, ☆☆ - good, ★★★ - great.
- Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball ☆☆
- A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor ☆
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr ★★★
- Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
- An Untamed State by Roxane Gay ★★★
- Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
- Redeployment by Phil Klay
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel ☆☆
- The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell ★★★
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng ☆☆
- Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill ★★★
- Adam by Ariel Schrag
- The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters ☆
- Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer ☆☆
- All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld ★★★
Thus far, my early favorite is, of course, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. It's a fantastic book, similar in design to Cloud Atlas, but better. Both All the Light We Cannot See and Dept. of Speculation are distant runner's up. All the Light is great story, told in very short and easy to digest chapters, and Speculation is a funny, heartrending, strange, and ultimately redemptive story of marriage.
The list of books for the 2014 Tournament of Books has been released. Once again, I plan to keep the list up to date with what I’ve read and whether I thought each book is good enough to win. One star (☆) means I didn’t like it but managed to finish it, two stars (☆☆) means I liked it but I didn’t think it should win, and three stars (★★★) means it was one of the better books I read this (or last) year and I’d be happy if it won the Tournament. The last several years my personal favorites going into the contest have been eliminated, but thus far I haven’t been disappointed with the eventual winner.
- At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón
- The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
- The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto
- The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
- How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
- The Dinner by Herman Koch
- The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
- Long Division by Kiese Laymon
- The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
- Hill William by Scott McClanahan ☆☆
- The Son by Philipp Meyer
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki ☆☆
- Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
- The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara ☆☆
- Pre-Tournament Playoff winner
Pre-Tournament Playoff Round
I’ve got a lot of reading to do between now and March, since I’ve only read two of the seventeen books chosen. Some seem like pretty obvious choices, but at least half of them are unfamiliar to me. And I just started reading The Flamethrowers, so I can’t even start on these until I’m done with that book. The good news is that all of them are available as eBooks from my local bookseller (Gulliver’s Books). That probably means they are in Amazon’s Kindle library as well.
Here they are, with three star rating system for those I've read, ☆ - not worthy, ☆☆ - good, ★★★ - great. I couldn’t finish Ivyland and wasn’t interested in Dear Life at all, so neither of those are contenders for me.
- HHhH by Laurent Binet ★★★
- The Round House by Louise Erdrich ☆☆
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn ★★★
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green ★★★
- Arcadia by Lauren Groff ☆☆
- How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti ☆
- May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes ☆☆
- The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson ★★★
- Ivyland by Miles Klee
- Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel ★★★
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller ☆☆
- Dear Life by Alice Munro
- Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple ☆☆
- Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter ☆☆
- Building Stories by Chris Ware ★★★
- (Winner of the Pre-Tournament Playoff Round, below)
Pre-Tournament Playoff Round:
- Fobbit by David Abrams ☆☆
- Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain ★★★
- The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
I’ve now read all the main tournament books I’m going to, and two of the “Iraq / Afghanistan” books that are in the Pre-Tournament Playoff. My current pick is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, but I wouldn’t be upset if Building Stories, The Fault in Our Stars, Gone Girl, HHhH or Bring Up the Bodies wound up winning. The Orphan Master’s Son is also excellent, but maybe a shade below the other five. Still left to read is the other pre-tournament pick (and the two others I don’t want to waste my time on…).