Sunday, September 13, 2015

Summer Reading List

One advantage of being rather tired and down this summer is that I read quite a lot. I've probably forgotten many of them. But here are some I remember.

The Wave-Watcher's Companion by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Quite a fun read about the aspects and nature of waves. Science for people who like to read novels.

Beyonders series by Brandon Mull. The ducklings are all avid Brandon Mull fans. I had only read the Fablehaven series previously, but having tried one series they wanted more. And then they insisted I should read it, and since I'm making them read Little Women and Treasure Island it seemed only fair. As middle-grade series fantasy goes I'm pretty happy with them. There's plenty of action, a good bit of trying to do the right thing in the face of extreme difficulty, and the grownups aren't all stupid or evil. A little gruesome for the more sensitive, but apparently none of the ducklings fall into that category. (BTW, after several years of nudging on my part, they have finally gotten hooked on Redwall.) Romance tends to stall at the butterflies in the stomach stage until the epilogue, when everyone is safely grown up.

 I tried to read an Agatha Christie that wasn't a murder mystery, and that just didn't work at all. I can't even remember the name.

What Language Is by John McWhorter. I like to read McWhorter and pretend I am a linguist, without the bother of having to actually master another language.

An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. And then I like to read Sacks and pretend I am a neurologist, without the bother of having to actually go to medical school. The way he brings out the soul of individuals even with damaged brains and minds is unmatched. Sad to hear of his death right as I finished this.

Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews. This is definitely my guilty pleasure author. However, drafting a murder mystery solved by a woman eight and a half months pregnant with twins and have it come off as believable is a feat worthy of some note. (It helped that the murder happened in her home office so she doesn't have to go far and she overhears much of the important evidence because she is napping or eating in odd locations.)

The City of Ember and sequels by Jeanne Duprau. And this would be middle-grade post-apocalyptic fiction, but I enjoyed it very much and so has Duchess. (Neither of us could get into the one prequel in the series, The Prophet of Yonwood. We prefer apocalypses in the distant past.) We also watched the movie version of the first book over the summer, which was notable for being a movie that Deux had never seen before but still liked.

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett. The next-to-last of the Discworld books. Some sad and narrow-minded newspaper writer recently blasted people for celebrating Terry Pratchett, as he was clearly nothing more than a hack churning out pot-boilers. He admitted he hadn't actually read any of the books, though, but he tried to snobbishly compare it to Mansfield Park, which he had only recently read for the first time. Well, I've read Mansfield Park several times, and it is a lovely work of its kind, and Pratchett's works are excellent works of their own kind; not the finessed style of an Austen, but generous work of a writer who gets better and better through long and copious practice. It will take a hundred years to be sure, but I think he easily stands with writers like Wodehouse and Dickens. Just because a book is funny doesn't mean it isn't profound. As Moist von Lipwig would point out, if you can get people laughing, they'll buy your goods. (One sign of his genius: he has so many books and so many different characters and they are all profoundly different and yet still human. Moist von Lipwig is most certainly not Sam Vimes who is not Archchancellor Ridcully who is not Susan who is not Granny Weatherwax. Even the minor characters sparkle with aliveness. And he can do something that in my reading is very rare among even celebrated male writers--he can write believable and interesting women, of every degree of age and desirability.)

I'm trying to get into Don Quixote, but apparently the version I started on was so abridged as to have left out most of the fun; I have borrowed from the library the translation Silvia recommends. It does read well, but it's frightfully thick and I may not get far before the library runs out of patience.

Also working on The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, The Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World, by Edward Dolnick. So far quite absorbing.

And to the kids I am reading one of my all-time favorites, Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, which has everything: ships and storms and love and loss and lots of math.


Diary of an Autodidact said...

Ditto on Bowditch. I need to read that one to the kids.

I think I will be adding Brandon Mull to our vacation audiobook list, and see how it works. Fortunately, at least three of the series exist in our library system, which isn't the case for all authors.

The Sacks sounds interesting too. Do you have a favorite of his, or a best book to start with?

I agree regarding Pratchett. While I have seen some "types" emerge, you are right that he is better than average at making distinct, human, characters.

Queen of Carrots said...

Probably the quintessential Sacks to start with is "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat." But "Anthropologist on Mars" is very similar in concept (case studies) and very good. "Awakenings" is also fascinating, but focuses on just one type of neurological issue. And "Uncle Tungsten" is a delightful autobiographical work of his childhood learning. So take your pick; they're all good.