2022 Reading Challenge discussion

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message 1: by Sean (new)

Sean | 33 comments Hi all,

After a few years of reading seventy-ish books a year I'm making a play for three figures: 100 books. So, a pace of two a week... that seems doable, right?

I don't have a theme as such, but I want to get to grip with Dickens, Hemmingway, Heinlein, and Dostoyevsky. I've read a couple of each (except, somehow, Dickens) but I'd like to end the year having read the majority of them all.

I've also signed up for "Clear the Shelves 2018" with the intention of reading through at least 50 of my current pile and "1st Quarter must read books" - just three classics there.

I'll update this thread with a brief review of the books I read. Any comments are very welcome.

So... now just need to clear down my currently in-progress books and prepare for the deluge of Christmas books...

cheers


message 2: by Susy (new)

Susy (susysstories) Impressive goal Sean! Wishing you the best of luck with it and of course above all I wish you a very happy reading year!


message 3: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Grønsund (gullita) | 3273 comments Welcome to the group, Sean! Moving up the ranks, huh? I'm still stuck on rookie-level at just below 50-books but that suits me just fine :D

It sounds like you have a great starting plan for the year :) My plan is to get through a few of the classics in 2018 so I'm hoping the quarterly challenge will help. Fingers crossed!

Good luck with your challenge in the year to come!


message 4: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12008 comments Best of luck with your challenge!


message 5: by Sean (new)

Sean | 33 comments Thankyou Susy, and Blagica :)

Lisa - that's the plan! Though I've failed to make it to three figures the last few years, so we will see...

While I'm here, I figured I'd post this:

2017 #72 Beacon 23 3 stars

I've read a few by Howey following the Wool trilogy (which I rated 5/4/3), so far he hasn't managed to recapture that lightning-in-a-bottle (possible exception: "The Plagiarist"). This one is a mis-matched series of sections that clearly shows a detrimental effect from its episodic origin (but has sequential chapter numbering, so is at least passing as a novel) . Thematically it has strong images of isolation and responsiblity in the first half, but these don't pay off.

All in all it's enjoyable enough, but a jumbled mess that doesn't at all earn the final resolution.


message 6: by Sean (new)

Sean | 33 comments 2017 #73 Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol 3 stars

I read a beautiful hardback edition published in 1997, using the original text from the 1843 first publication, with line and painted illustrations by Everett Shinn.

My first impression (beyond revelling in the line draw illustrations - the coloured plates are far less accomplished) was positive, it's easy to read and quite fun (so bodes well for the Dickens part of the 2018 challenge). Although that could be an echo of all those Christmas films ("We're Marley and Marley... whooooooh").

So, onto the plot. Selfish old Scrooge is shown the error of his ways by three ghosts and repents. Tiny Tim lives. The end. It's an entertaining journey getting there, but I was disappointed by how quickly Scrooge folded. He was basically done by the end of the first ghost's visit. It would have been a better tale if he'd fought back and argued his case before surrendering to the joy of Christmas. Not so far for Dickens is Dostoyevsky's habit (or so I have heard) of putting his opponent's best arguments into the mouths of his strongest characters.

So what is Scrooge today, and what was he in 1843? By then England was well into hard industrialisation, but it was before God was proclaimed dead in the 1880s. So, I guess Scrooge is the embodiment of the coming capitalist revolution, and the ghosts etc. that of Christian charity and human fellowship. In this analysis the victory is a temporary one.

Worth the read though.


message 7: by Sean (last edited Jan 02, 2018 06:06AM) (new)

Sean | 33 comments Clearing out the last of the 2017 writeups...


2017 #74. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Yuval Noah Harari. 4/5

This is a ambitious book that covers a lot of interesting ground. Some moderately important flaws but it prompts a lot of interesting thought and provides a couple of useful new mental tools.

A failure to consider energy. Although resources limits are mentioned here and there in the book to my best recollection the question of how resource limits will impact the future is never directly addressed. This seems, to me at least, to directly kick the legs out from under the whole theory. The whole thesis directly depends on a ever-growing supply of energy that is in the process of going away. Of course, we might get some distance down this road before the car runs out of petrol.

A serious misunderstanding of "algorithm": the term "Algorithm" is used to describe animals and people. This misses the point by several orders of magnitude. People aren't algorithms, animals aren't algorithms. This is a mistake of fundamental proportion. We are at the least, complex systems, or more likely ecosystems of complex systems. To reduce even animals to algorithmic status is absurd, like a bug encoutering an elephant toenail and declaring "elephants are toenails" (I like my elephant metaphors). I am guessing that TNH is completely outside his domain here and speculating without the necessary context.

Capitalist games. This was a small but revealing nugget. The games we play as children (in the west, in modern times) are capitalist by their nature. Civilisation... invest to accumulate. Plow all possible profits into growth excepting only that which is needed to pay for necessities to stay alive (soldiers, etc.). Spending resources on anything else is irrational, counterproductive madness within the structure of the game.

The modernist deal. This is that modern humans swap meaning for power. In the abscence of the supernatural we have no naturally meaningful place within the cosmos. But that means we can dominate the cosmos by finding the right place to put our lever. And...! If we can just find a way to create meaning ourselves then we win both ends of the deal.

Three flavours of humanism. This was well received. There is mainstream humanism ("in all of us a there is a spark of the divine" - sounds familiar). Collective humanism ("god in the group, not the individual" - also familar). Plus the less familiar evolutionary humanism, which is survival of the fittest applied ruthlessly to human population and individuals.

These various religeons act to drive the increasing wordly power of science and technology (which - at least here - comes without a driving goal of its own).

The data religion. Humans will decline in economic and military value (ignoring resource exhaustion), and also in importance to the data processing system (everything=data processing). As such human desires become increasingly irrelevent. Why would the 'system' pay attention to human votes when humans are just the froth on the surface of the ocean. So then, what takes over as the new leading light... data, and data processing. Things that increase data processing are good (connections, computing power everywhere), things that retard it are bad (privacy, censorship).

So, flawed but thought provoking.


2017 #75. Station Eleven. Emily St. John Mandel. 5/5

This is a good novel, probably one of the best I've read in a while. It opens with the death of an Shakesperean actor, Arthur, on the stage of a heart attack, and then widens to the pruning away of nearly everyone else in the world in a vicious flu-like pandemic. We then go forward 15 years to the cliched travelling band of actors/musicians moving between the surviving hamlets and villages of the american east. I rolled my eyes a little at that I have to say, but I got past it.

What I was dreading at that point was a drab and extended narrative about how life was 15 years after the apocalypse. Instead though Mandel starts to jump though the timeline with Arthur as the central node of a network of people that spans half a century and the globe. There are odd connections and trivial co-incidences, objects that appear in the hands of different characters decades apart. Travel, and locations that serve as transport or communication hubs feature strongly as the immediate background of the action. "Everything's connected"? This kicks Cloud Atlas to the kerb.

The other layer I can see is the urge to return home to a home that is no longer accessible, whether the small island community of birth, the plague-ruined networked society of the recent past, the travelling orchestra, or the lost Earth on the other side of the wormhole that the underwater subconcious longs for.

There is however an upbeat ending, Clark at the closing of his life, surrounded by the ghosts of the past, reflects on a distantly seen electric power network, newly born newspapers, and the idea of ships setting off from distant shores. Though we may never see it, home is not it seems, irrevocably lost forever.


2017 #76. Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany. Norman Ohler 4/5

This is one of those books that don't need good writing (although the writing is fine) because the subject matter has you going "WTactualF" every other page. Nazis. Drugs. Nazis on drugs and the (true) story of fighting the second world war while high as a kite. There are four sections: on the german civilian population, the military in the early days of the war, Hitler himself in the early to mid war, and then a final section on Hitler and the military in the late stages of the war.

Some of the well-researched stories told are eye-popping, while variously crazy, sad and brutal. They cast a new (to me at least) perspective on some of the events of the war and Hitler's actions in particular. I was aware that drugs were used both by the soldiers and the leadership but the depths that they sunk to, and the consequences, help explain some of the events. Although I am sceptical of any single-cause explanation of history this is clearly an important part of the mix.

The whole war (from the Nazi perspective) can be seen as an extended journey of addiction. From the early stages of euphoria and seeming invincibility the country moves steadily into the middle territories of keeping up appearances, while chasing larger and larger doses. Finally the end days come, beyond desperation, all touch with reality long gone, freefalling toward destuction. At least I think that is the metaphor that Ohler is going for, although he doesn't make it explicit.


2017 #77. Trading Up: Why Consumers Want New Luxury Goods--and How Companies Create Them. Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske 3/5

I saw this book referenced in the sometimes awesome
Ribbonfarm blog.

The main concept is that people will commonly spend more in some category of life and less in others. This is actually a lot more plausible than the null hypothesis that everyone spends proportionately the same on everything - damn you homo economicus, you have tricked me again. Anyway, this means that for the special things in life in some particular domain (favourite hobby, specila interest etc.) people will pay for the best, in some way that's emotionally satisfying to them. So there exist business niches that can service these "New Luxury" purchases.

The writing is fine and the structure works well - a handful of chapters to explain the main themes, then half a dozen case studies and a summary chapter or two. More interesting to me for the socio-economics than the business angle, but a solid read either way.

Edit: added two book links


message 8: by Sean (new)

Sean | 33 comments 2018 #1 Professor Stewart's Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries. Ian Stewart. 3/5

One of my Christmas books. A collection of interesting (if you are into this kind of thing) mathematical triva, proved and unproved theorems, games and diversions, and exercises for the interested reader.

There is a running series of articles featuring two detectives - a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson who solve mathematically based crimes in Victorian London.

Fine as far as it goes.


#2 A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. Aldo Leopold 4/5

This was written in 1948, now a biblical lifetime ago. The first half is a description of the ecology of the time near Leopold's home in central Wisconsin. The birds, beasts and flora that he would see over the course of the year are lovingly and sadly portrayed. Their interrationships between the life; the land; and the seasons are movingly described, and the missing connections to the extinct and soon-to-be extinct species closely marked. Modernity and progress, even in their attentuated mid-twentieth century form, are given short shrift. Leopold died in 1948, and you can't avoid the thought of what he would make of the modern world, had he been cursed to live two full spans of life.

The last half is split into two sections, the first being a group of half a dozen shorter and more superficial descriptions of other american ecologies that he had travelled through, framed by travel anecdotes. In the second Leopold tries to abstract his beliefs about the wild, and make the case for its preservation. He makes a good effort, but this is less convincing, conciously, quite probably, given his critiques of simliar prior efforts by other authors. It reads like it's translated not just from another language but from some of mode of thought, some other system of values.

(For the SF fans, it reminded me of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy when Anne Claybourne, confronted by all the arguement of the other main characters as to why terraforming would be a net benefit all round can only raise her hands and cry "Mars. Mars. MARS".)


message 9: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12008 comments Wishing you the best of luck with your goal this year.


message 10: by Sean (new)

Sean | 33 comments Hey, thanks Blagica, good reading for you too :)


#3 Places in the Darkness. Chris Brookmyre 3/5

I've read a few of Brookmyre's modern day/crime novels and was expecting some twisty-wisty plot. The set up is well executed for a mid-future SF novel with perhaps just a few too many hints as to where the plot was going - or maybe I was just hyper aware of it. Still, it was a pleasant journey through some more-or-less familar territory, but well handled and with a fresh air - maybe Brookmyre is bringing some real-world authenticity here. The last act wasn't quite as out there as I was hoping for, but it didn't disappoint either. I also kind of liked that this was a self-contained novel rather than obviously just a set up for a extended series, one and done.

[snark] I'm just sayin' tho, Brookmyre's treatment of the physics of rotating frames of reference is sorely lacking. Seriously though, all SF authors should be forced to read Ringworld before they are allowed to finish their first novel.[/snark]


message 11: by Sean (new)

Sean | 33 comments #4 The War Nerd Iliad. John Dolan 3/5

I have a great deal of time for the Ward Nerd, and here he is with a translation of the Iliad into colloquial english. The idea is that back around the camp fires these were stirring tales, not dull text (disclaimer: I really liked the penguin version translated by Martin Hammond - 4/5). I can get behind this idea though, sure.

Unfortunately, I think Dolan takes it a bit too far, not just using modern language but also throwing in a fair sprinkling of modern proper nouns - Porsche gets a mention, and taking a plane to Malibu (or was it Maui? - couldn't find it again to confirm). That just breaks my suspension of disbelief, problematically.

All that said, I enjoyed it and it was a pretty quick fun read. Much of this is credit to Homer of course, but still no bad thing. One odd thing I noted this time around is how gripping it is to read a list of character deaths. A quick character sketch and then a description of how they snuff it and it's compelling... car crash prose. Yes, of course... the Iliad was the bronze age Hunger Games...


message 12: by Sean (new)

Sean | 33 comments To Have and Have Not. Ernest Hemmingway 3/5

It was hard to know what to make of this one, so I broke my own guidlines and read a bunch of other reviews of it before writing this one. Phew, I'm glad it wasn't just me!

The structure is an odd mishmash with different minor characters and situations accreted onto the main story line, seemingly in an effort to pad out the book to a suitable length. I also personally found the personality of Harry, the main character, hard to accept as it was shown. He seems to do some things that are wildly out of character for the way he is portrayed the rest of the time. Having said that the dialogue and writing is characteristically sparse and enjoyable, and the world portrayed is unflinchingly hard, which appeals to me. So I enjoyed, but was happy to read that this isn't considered one of his best books.


message 13: by Sean (new)

Sean | 33 comments Deep Simplicity: Chaos, Complexity And The Emergence Of Life. John Gribben 4/5

This was one of the better popular science books that I've read in quite a while. Although dating to 2003 there are some interesting a relevent things to learn here. The first three chapters intoduce the usual concepts and participants in chaos theory, and recap some of the basic devopment of classical dynamics and thermodynamics.

From then on things get more interesting, introducing gravitational energy as negative, with curious effects on entropy - gravitational effects can consequently produce a more ordered system with reduced entropy. And also, the net gravitational energy of a mass is the exact negative of its rest mass - so that the net energy of the mass of the universe as a whole is zero.

I was also enamoured of two seperate descriptions of how to quantify the fractional dimension of a fractal, which I haven't seen before. This is tied neatly into a lengthy tour through power laws and where they show up - although it was not made clear what leads to their emegence. It seemed to be implied that is due to self-interaction in a system (which would make sense, as that neatly invalidates the central limit theorem).

Then we get an tour through how network effects can be thought to modify 'classical' Darwinian selection through coevolution, and how puntured equilirium can be understood through this mechanism, and a healthy dose of realism about choosing the appropriate timescale to measure what is going on. Finally we see an application of this kind of networking and complex system thinking to the global biosphere (the Gaia theory) and the 'galactic ecosystem' of star formation and lifecycles, with a sideline or two into spotting life on alien worlds. A good read.


message 14: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12008 comments You are doing great! Hoping March is a smashing success for you. 12 books is great!


message 15: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12008 comments A book is a dream that you hold in your hand. I hope that April brings you many more five star reads. Do you have a stand out book so far this year?


message 16: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12008 comments You are doing great! I hope May is a fantastic month filled with books and sunshine!


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