Monday, November 15, 2010

What I'm Reading

  • Year's Best SF 14 ed. by David G Hartwell and Kathryn Kramer - There was a period in my young yoot in which oh, 70% of what I read for pleasure was in the sci-fi genre. That was a long time ago; however, that did not mitigate my surprise when I picked up this year's (well 2008's) best of anthology, to find that I did not recognize a single author from the old days. Still, I'm glad to report the 21 stories contained in the 495 pages are all good, and most are excellent. Among the best: "Pump Six" by Paolo Bacigalupi is about the deterioration of civilization thanks to technological improvements that have rendered competence and deep-thinking unnecessary; Jason Sanford's "The Ships Like Clouds, Risen in Their Rain" describes a strange world that is part-spaceship, part-asteroid; in "Fixing Hanover" by Jeff Vandermeer, a man who can fix anything is shipwrecked on some backward planet--things get difficult when a broken-down robot drifts ashore and he must fix it.
  • Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder - Possibly the best living writer, certainly the best in non-fiction, Kidder has again found powerful material in the story of a still-young Burundian, Deogratias, who miraculously survived genocide in his home country, to find himself at JFK airport with no contacts, no English, and $200 in his pocket. Kidder tells the remarkable tale of how he got to this point mainly in Deo's own words. Kidder himself enters the story years later when he meets Deo through Dr Paul Farmer (about whom he wrote his previous book Mountains Beyond Mountains) and accompanies him to Burundi as Deo begins to build a clinic there. With the help of a few amazing benefactors, Deo makes hs way to Columbia Medical School to complete studies begun long ago back home, and at the same time makes his way toward mental health in healing the scars of his time on the run from Hutu death squads. A must-read.
  • Terror in the Name of God by Jessica Stern - Though this book was published in 2004, its lessons are still true today. Dr Stern is one of the foremost authorities on terrorism, and she traveled and interviewed extensively over four years in preparing this book--Christians, Jews, Muslims, all come under her microscope as tries to understand their reasons and to inform policy-making in dealing with religious extremists. The book is broken into sections on what motivates individuals to turn to terrorism, and how extremist groups are structured, funded and led. There is a final, thin chapter of policy recommendations. Still, while it may be short on advice, it is long on interesting, sometimes scary, interviews with interesting, somethimes scary, people. Alas, this book's information won't leave you more hopeful, but it will leave you better informed.
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - Translated from the French by Alison Anderson, this is a beautiful, lyrical book whose imperceptible plot movement has the momentum of a deep ocean undertow that suddenly crashes on you like a tidal wave. The story centers on a dowdy, fifty-ish apartment concierge named Renee Michel, and a precocious twelve-year-old girl named Paloma who lives in her building and has determined to commit suicide on June sixteenth. Both have marvelous, secret internal lives that are discovered by the newest tenant, a retired Japanese businessman named Kakuro Ozu. Eye-opening, thought-provoking, heart-rending. What more can you want in a novel?

1 comment:

kevin.thurston said...

"The Ships Like Clouds, Risen in Their Rain"

that is a beautiful title