This Week, I Read… (#36)

86 - These Broken Stars

#86 – These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

  • Read: 8/25/16 – 8/27/16
  • Provenance: Library (ebook)
  • Challenge: ReadsTheBooks 2016 Reading Challenge; also #readwomensummer
  • Task: Read a book I saw on Instagram
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

The companion to another task, Follow a bookish Instragram. Of course I followed readsthebooks herself, creator of the challenge, but I browsed a few pages of the #bookstagram tag to see what a) caught my eye, and b) was also available on Hoopla.

(In case anyone’s wondering, I don’t intend to actually use my IG account for anything; I don’t have a smartphone, research into the not-free Kindle app suggests that it bites, and while I can view content through my browser, I can’t post it. Which is too bad, because I’m really getting into book photography on Tumblr, and it would be nice to post to IG as well, but not if I have to use a crap-app instead of my nice digital camera.)

So the major contenders were this and The Selection, but I felt like some space opera, and TBS was on my to-read list anyway.

For a YA romance, I’d give it five stars: Tarver and Lilac were both well-developed on their own, the conflicts between them were compelling instead of flimsy, and yeah, throwing two people together in a survival situation produces a lot of tension, romantic and otherwise. I did break into tears when I was supposed to (no spoilers in this case, I would have hated if someone had spoiled that part for me,) but I was happy again by the end.

As a sci-fi work, on the other hand, it left me disappointed. What worldbuilding there is, is deftly done; I never stared at the page wondering what the hell was that about? But I wanted more. I wanted more political background to this society, I wanted to know more about their tech, I wanted more explanation of the military system, and more references to history, so that I could place the story in context with our Earth.

I’m not even sure, now, after reading, if this was supposed to be set in our universe, or an entirely fictional one. I assumed it was our (semi-)distant future, because a character uses the colloquialism “what on earth.” I may have missed other clues, I did read it fast because the personal drama was so compelling–but isn’t that something that should be clear? I’m not asking for extensive references to Old Earth every five pages, but a solid grounding would have been helpful.

I did like it enough that I intend to continue the series, and I would recommend it to fans of space opera, as long as its understood that this is a lighter flavor of sci-fi.

87 - Stranger in a Strange Land

#87 – Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein

How about the science-fiction bestseller, the first one to achieve that distinction? Good choice, right?

Wrong.

I’m glad I read this, because what Heinlein did well, he did extraordinarily. I have read a lot of science fiction over the years, but Valentine Michael Smith is by far the most interesting, original, and utterly alien character I have ever read. The parts of the story that focused on how he thought, his reactions to Earth and its people, the misunderstandings and the fumbling attempts to communicate–they were brilliant. And combined, they’d form an excellent treatise for aspiring writers on the importance of verb choice: “grok” alone is worth articles by itself, but what I found even more gripping were the words familiar to me, used in odd manner–corporate and discorporate, wait, even drink. It was tantalizing to almost understand how Mike thought, but never quite.

Too bad that was less than a quarter of the story. Everything else was crap. Unimaginative “future” tech. Rampant misogyny–this is definitely a work that reflects its era. Entire chapters of talking-heads expository dialogue.

It was exhausting, but I’d been warned this was a slog of a read, so I felt prepared.

Mike gets five stars for being a precious cinnamon roll long before that was a meme, and the rest of the book gets one for being a verbose wreck more concerned with big, existential ideas than with anything resembling plot or character development about anyone not-Mike.

I’m glad I read it once, but I’m never, ever going to read it again.

88 - Haiku the Poetry of Zen

#88 – Haiku: The Poetry of Zen, by Munuela Dun Mascetti

  • Read: 8/31/16
  • Provenance: Owned (hardcover)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: Read a book out loud to someone else
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Lacking a small child handy to read to, I picked a short book of poetry (64 pages) from the collection and read out loud to my dinosaur plant and a few stuffed animals.

Can I say that without sounding lunatic? “It’s for a reading challenge, I swear!”

I’ve long been a fan of haiku. When I was introduced to the form in seventh-grade English class, I fell in love with it instantly. Our assignment for the week was to write three haiku–I wrote over thirty. And I picked up one of the blank blank-books from my stash and kept writing. I still have it, though I never filled it completely; I numbered them in lieu of titles, and the last entry is #264.

So reading haiku aloud? No great chore for me.

The first section of this book is a history of the form, the second section an anthology of poems ranging from the original masters to contemporary poets. I like that the anthology is divided by seasonal themes, as traditional haiku are focused on nature.

Reading the autumn section made me crave its arrival even more–I’m so tired of this heat and humidity!–but it was a pleasant way to pass part of the afternoon nonetheless.

89 - Kare Kano

#89 – Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 1, by Masami Tsuda

When I was standing at the shelves of the manga section of my library, I honestly didn’t know what to choose. I didn’t want to get anything related to an anime I’d already seen, no matter which came first, so there went half the section: Vision of Escaflowne, Death Note, Attack on Titan, even Oh! My Goddess, which I haven’t seen since college. Not that there was much of it.

I also didn’t want to get anything related to animes I didn’t want to see–so there went half of what was left: Yu-Gi-Oh, Fushigi Yugi, Naruto, and so on.

Titles kept jumping out at me that seemed familiar, but most of those were graphic novels I’ve seen praised on Tumblr. I may go back for some of them, but for this, I needed a manga, and I wanted one I was totally unfamiliar with.

Enter Kare Kano. Sometimes when you take a chance on something, you’re rewarded, and then there’s Kare Kano. I wasn’t expecting literary greatness, but I also wasn’t expecting a melodramatic high school whine-fest with incredibly annoying and unlikable characters, cloying dialogue, and a moral lesson I felt hammered over the head with.

On top of that, I wasn’t fazed by the right-to-left style–I’ve read manga before, in Japanese, even, back when I was studying it–but the art style in this particular story had speech balloons so minimalistic the tail leading to the speaker was nearly invisible in some panels–which made sorting out who said what dialogue difficult. The visual equivalent of bad tagging. And sometimes I couldn’t tell what was supposed to be speech and what was internal monologue, which led to even more confusion.

Maybe I should have picked up Attack on Titan after all. Can we have the next season of that show, please? I’m impatient.

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