SilverMaris

SilverMaris

Avid reader and book enthusiast. Blogging against the forgetfulness of everyday life. I read and review in English and German.

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How much real information is available to ordinary, nongovernment, nonmilitary, nonspecialist, nonrich people? What does 'classified' mean? What do shredders shred? What does money buy? In a State, even a democracy, where power is hierarchic, how can you prevent the storage of information from becoming yet another source of power to the powerful—another piston in the great machine?
Always Coming Home - Todd Barton, Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Ursula K. Le Guin

"Always Coming Home" – Ursula K. Le Guin (p. 316)

 

Shit just got real. A little further down the page, there's a passage that can be read as Le Guin breaking the fourth wall and critiquing her writing of this very text, and then the other character in the dialogue says, "You can't talk that way!" and the potential Le Guin stand-in is like, "True."

 

I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this. 

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Not all rocks are equally sensitive. Most basalt doesn't pay attention.
Always Coming Home - Todd Barton, Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Ursula K. Le Guin

"Always Coming Home" – Ursula K. Le Guin (p. 309)

 

This is followed by two paragraphs on the inner lives and personalities of different kinds of rock. It's glorious. 

Month in Review: February
Guapa - Saleem Haddad, Andreas Diesel The Semester of Our Discontent - Cynthia Kuhn Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor On the Edge of Gone - Corinne Duyvis Young Blood - Stephanie von Harrach, Sifiso Mzobe Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll Der Susan-Effekt - Peter Urban-Halle, Peter Høeg

February brought grim winter weather and some solid novel reading, helped along by slow times at work. I was also ill for a week and didn't get much of anything done, so progress on my bigger reads stalled. Adorno and Le Guin are still stuck in my Currently Reading queue, there's some reviews I need to catch up on, but overall I'm quite happy with my first full month on BookLikes. 

 

 

4.5 star reads: 

 

Saleem Haddad: Guapa

Corinne Duyvis: On the Edge of Gone

 

4 star reads: 

 

Nnedi Okorafor: Lagoon

Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

 

2.5 star reads: 

 

Cynthia Kuhn: The Semester of Our Discontent

Sifiso Mzobe: Young Blood

Peter Høeg: Der Susan-Effekt

 

 

Looks like 2.5 stars are my go-to rating when I didn't quite enjoy a book but didn't hate it either. And I need to write more reviews of novels I do enjoy! 

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Es ist das Wesen des Besiegten, in seiner Ohnmacht unwesentlich, abseitig, skurril zu scheinen.
Minima Moralia. Reflexionen aus dem beschädigten Leben - Theodor W. Adorno

"Minima Moralia" – Theodor W. Adorno, S. 172 (Vermächtnis).

Review
2.5 Stars
Der Susan-Effekt
Der Susan-Effekt - Peter Urban-Halle, Peter Høeg

Nachdem ich mit einem früheren Roman von Peter Høeg, Der Plan von der Abschaffung des Dunkels, sehr gute Erfahrungen gemacht habe und von der Vielseitigkeit dieses Autors beeindruckt war, war Der Susan-Effekt ein eher ernüchterndes Leseerlebnis. Ein bisschen hat man das Gefühl, dass Høeg seine großen Themen verbraucht hat und nunmehr schreibt, um in der Übung zu bleiben. 

 

Der Susan-Effekt handelt von der Experimentalphysikerin Susan Svendsen und ihrer Familie, die in Indien allesamt straffällig werden und nun die Wahl haben: Wenn sie bestimmte Informationen besorgen, können sie der Gefängnisstrafe entgehen. Zu Hilfe kommt den Svendsens der sogenannte "Effekt", denn in ihrer Gegenwart werden Menschen absolut aufrichtig. 

 

Trotz dieser eigentlich spannenden Voraussetzungen wird die Handlung nie wirklich mitreißend. Høeg schien mehr daran gelegen, sich einen bestimmten sprachlichen Zugang zu erarbeiten, wie er seiner Meinung nach einer abgeklärten Naturwissenschaftlerin entsprechen könnte, und so ist der Roman mehr Sprachexperiment als gelungene Erzählung. Zugleich ist Susan in einigen Punkten so sehr Männerphantasie, dass sie nie wirklich lebendig wird. Sie ist mehr plot device als Mensch, und zudem mit einer Flapsigkeit z. B. gegenüber sexueller Gewalt ausgestattet, die überhaupt nicht angemessen ist. (Høeg verwendet auch einiges an Zeit darauf, uns zu versichern, wie dünn Susan sei, und meint ihre implizierte Attraktivität durch aggressive Heterosexualität verstärken zu müssen, während eine weniger sympathische Nebenfigur natürlich dick und potenziell lesbisch ist. Schade, wenn sich Autoren auf diese Weise selber diskreditieren.)

 

Zurück bleibt ein blutarmes, schlafwandelndes Buch, hübsch anzusehen und zu lesen, aber unfähig, dem Leser etwas in irgendeiner Hinsicht Bereicherndes zurückzugeben. Der Effekt funktioniert nur in eine Richtung. Wer nicht Susan Svendsen ist, geht leer aus. 

Review
2.5 Stars
Sifiso Mzobe: Young Blood
Young Blood - Stephanie von Harrach, Sifiso Mzobe

DNF @ about 75 pages in. 

 

I'm ill and have been resting most of the day, so I thought it might be a good moment to tackle my TBR pile shelves. 

 

This is an advance copy I grabbed a couple of years ago, but it turns out the story just doesn't work for me. The translation was clunky in places, which didn't help—I can see how the writing may have had a lot more charm in its original English. What made me give up on it, though, was the main character's treatment of his girlfriend. It may be realistic for a guy his age and background, but I simply don't care to spend much time on narrators who are that unapologetic about their abuse/misogyny.

 

He keeps trying to pressure his girlfriend into sex, engages in emotional blackmail, gives her the silent treatment when she says she's not ready yet, doesn't care about her crying while they drive home, and constantly cheats on her with other women. And yet, somehow, the jacket copy suggests that it's his getting into stealing cars which puts a strain on the relationship.

(show spoiler)

 

Edit: Looks like the spoiler tags in the text editor don't work. How do I hide spoilers properly? 

 

Edit: I think I got it to work!

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There is no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And no pain. It is like being thrown into the stars.
Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor

"Lagoon" – Nnedi Okorafor

Reading progress update: I've read 240 out of 464 pages.
On the Edge of Gone - Corinne Duyvis

Halfway through this book, and it's amazing so far. It's more speculative fiction than sci-fi, and it's not so much about the apocalypse—a comet's about to crash into Earth—but about what happens after. A bit dark, but not grim, and written from the perspective of an autistic teenager determined to find her sister. 

 

Since I'm enjoying it so much, it'd be remiss not to point out that the ebook is still on sale worldwide for $1,29, or 0,96 € if that's your currency of choice.

Review
4 Stars
Nnedi Okorafor: Lagoon
Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor

This is one of those books that simply feel good while you read them—that create an imaginary space that it's really fun to spend time in. There's something vibrantly alive about this story and the way it is told, from its large cast of characters to the setting in Nigeria's megacity of Lagos. 

 

The constant shifts of perspective are a huge part of why this book succeeds so well at what it does. It keeps you on your toes and makes you take on vastly different point of views on the same event. There are three main characters and their family and friends, side characters, a swordfish and a bat, the president of Nigeria, and many more that I don't want to spoil. As a reader, you get a very distinct feel for the whole city, its different factions, its struggles and mythology, and while some characterisations are a bit flat, others feel wholly unique and inventive. 

 

I've been wanting to read more diverse books—specifically books written by and about people with more than one marginalised identity. This means books by women of colour, queer men of colour, disabled women, etc. (Recommendations are very welcome!)

 

But while there is a wealth of perspectives here, with black voices front and center, there are two aspects which didn't work for me. 

 

Spoilers ahead! 

 

Among the many sideplots, Okorafor included one about a group of LGBTQ+ activists coming out of hiding and one about a disabled boy. This seems pretty cool at first until you get further into the story and all of these people are either killed or severely beaten. All of them. The disabled boy, who spends a good part of his narration wishing he could speak, and his death are then used to inspire millions via YouTube. All this is laden with so much pathos it's unbearable: 

 

The child would become The Boy Who Died So the World Could See.

The mute boy never knew his father or mother. He was found in a dumpster and then placed in an orphanage. No one ever bothered to name him and he never knew how to name himself.

He was only eight years old. 

 

Wow. I think Okorafor single-handedly hit the trifecta of most common tropes that are actively harmful to disabled people and then coated them in a heavy dose of pity: Snuff, inspiration porn and desperately wishing we weren't disabled. I'm sorry, but we don't spend all our lives yearning for that ability we don't have. Why would you think that's healthy? We have better things to do, and lives to live. Quality of life is important, of course, but being just like everyone else? Not so much. 

 

I'm not even going to get into the dead queer people because it should be obvious how chilling it is to include marginalised groups just to kill them off for tragicness points. 

 

With these grotesque oversights in mind, still a decent read if you're into first contact stories with a unique slant. 

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My father came and I began to tell him that I wanted to ride the sorrel mare. He said, 'Get in the cart,' and rode on by. He had looked at me as a woman among the other women, a squawking hen among the poultry. He had changed his soul for his power.
Always Coming Home - Todd Barton, Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Ursula K. Le Guin

"Always Coming Home" – Ursula K. Le Guin (p. 195)

Review
2.5 Stars
Cynthia Kuhn: The Semester of Our Discontent
The Semester of Our Discontent - Cynthia Kuhn

I received a free copy of this book through Murder by Death and instaFreebies. Thank you!

 

The blurb of this novel sounded promising: a murder mystery set in academia, focusing on Lila Maclean, a young professor embarking on her first job in the field. When one of her colleagues turns up dead and another is attacked Lila starts investigating the crimes while also trying to dodge suspicions that she may be more involved than she lets on.

 

Unfortunately, although I enjoyed bits here and there, this book just didn't work for me. My main issue was with the writing itself and the protagonist's voice, which didn't flow naturally and often felt clunky and overwrought. Since the book is written in the first person, it's also hard to escape.

 

When Lila describes her actions, for example, she will say things like, "After I waved goodbye to [a friend], I turned to proceed up the short walkway to my house" or "I was comforted by the sight of individuals scattered around the steps of various university buildings".

 

For such a down to earth, Girl Next Door with a PhD character, it seemed out of place. And it's not just her—it's everywhere. I am certainly no stranger to polysyllabic extravaganzas, but there is a time and a place. Meanwhile, in this novel, the word choices seemed to be all about evoking an air of erudition without actually being meaningful or necessary, and they jar even more when Lila's narration is extremely flippant or casual elsewhere in the text.

 

Lila admits as much about halfway through. When she is asked how she likes her new job she thinks to herself:

 

There was something welcoming about her, as if we'd been friends for years—probably the reason I said it was "a bit scary" instead of something more formal and appropriate for a new professor.

 

The whole text is playing dress-up in a similar way, using language as a pretension rather than a tool.

 

There were aspects I liked, though. More than one professor is casually queer, and I enjoyed Kuhn's take on academic politics. I also kept misreading the novel's title as "The Semester of Our Disco Tent" which cheered me up whenever the writing got me down. 

 

Read in February 2017. 

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Nothing we do is better than the work of handmind. When mind uses itself without the hands it runs the circle and may go too fast; even speech using the voice only may go too fast. The hand that shapes the mind into clay or written word slows thought to the gait of things and lets it be subject to accident and time. Purity is on the edge of evil, they say.
Always Coming Home - Todd Barton, Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Ursula K. Le Guin

"Always Coming Home" – Ursula K. Le Guin (p. 175)

Review
4 Stars
Jasper Fforde: The Eyre Affair
The Eyre Affair  - Jasper Fforde

Charmingly overplotted, this book is the definition of a fun romp. 

 

A good friend has been bugging me for ages now to start this series because she adores it, and I'm glad I gave this one a try. I loved the sheer force of Thursday Next's personality, the way she just gets things done, the more than just slightly askew look at the world as we know it, the 80s feel (including postmodernist naming conventions), the brief instances of time travel, the book travel. The way actions had consequences and various shenanigans had to be hidden from major characters so they wouldn't show up in the text. 

 

Some spoilers ahead. 

 

I also enjoyed how there was so much going on. In recent years, it sometimes seems like every brain fart is turned into a trilogy, so it was refreshing just to delve into so much plot. There's a first stand-off with the major villain about 50 pages in, and if that isn't some generous writing, I don't know what is. The only thing I could have done without is the romance subplot. You're a male writer, and you create a kick-ass heroine who has her colleagues swooning over her, and then you give her a long-lost love interest. His occupation, of course? Writer. I haven't seen such an unnecessary author stand-in in a while. 

 

Blatant fetishism of the main character aside, this book is lovely. I cackled when the ChronoGuard tries to make Thursday believe she's been gone for over 30 years, and while I wasn't as convinced by the next installment in the series, I can definitely recommend this. 

 

Read in January 2017. 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 167 out of 400 pages.
Guapa - Saleem Haddad, Andreas Diesel

This is so good. The kind of book that you want all of your friends to read. I've missed reading something that actually feels real to me, meaningful. This is just such a breath of fresh air. Even the translation is great. 

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Es ist dahin gekommen, daß Lüge wie Wahrheit klingt, Wahrheit wie Lüge. (...) Als die Nationalsozialisten zu foltern begannen, terrorisierten sie damit nicht nur die Völker drinnen und draußen, sondern waren zugleich vor der Enthüllung um so sicherer, je wilder das Grauen anstieg. Dessen Unglaubwürdigkeit machte es leicht, nicht zu glauben, was man um des lieben Friedens willen nicht glauben wollte, während man zugleich davor kapitulierte.
Minima Moralia. Reflexionen aus dem beschädigten Leben - Theodor W. Adorno

"Minima Moralia" – Theoder W. Adorno (S. 122, Pseudomenos)

 

In Zeiten von "alternative facts" scheint mir das etwas zu sein, was man im Auge behalten sollte: Die Tendenz, vor den allzu krassen Aussagen und politischen Positionen Trumps zu kapitulieren, zu sagen: "Das kann doch gar nicht sein, das kann er doch nicht meinen." Oder auch: "Es wird schon nicht so schlimm werden, schließlich gibt es gewisse demokratische Prozesse, die eingehalten werden müssen." Wie schnell die Demokratie ad acta gelegt werden kann, sollte jedoch uns allen bewusst sein. 

It took me four days to realise that adding all my books to BL manually was pretty naive. What can I say. I knew about the import function but I liked the idea of starting over and changing up my shelving system and getting to award half-star ratings (half-star ratings! How I have longed for thee). 

 

But it's less fun than I'd anticipated. The best course of action seems to be to make sure my GR library is up to date and has accurate data and then just to import it. I don't know if that'll create duplicates of the books I've already added, but it's less work to delete 100 duplicates than to add another few hundred individual titles with ratings and shelves. 

 

Anyway, I love the blogging capabilities of BL, and there seems to be a lovely community here, albeit small. I've read that the site was unavailable a few times over the last year, so here's hoping that that's all sorted out and it'll be better this year. 

 

Hello everyone! It's good to be here.