I love browsing other peoples’ reading lists!

My culture tells me that reading books is something a respectable intellectual should do a lot of, but it’s been pretty far down the list of priorities ever since I had to seriously come to terms with the fact that sustaining a regular sleep and exercise schedule is key to holding off crippling depression. Well now I’m on a nomadic sabatical and there is time for books again!

When I was back home over winter holiday, my brother was dragging his face through a book club book he hated, with the explanation that he found fulfillment in figuring out exactly what it was about a book that he hated. So I started a spreadsheet about my feelings of all the things I’ve been reading, because I too love dissecting my feelings and analysing my reactions to a precise degree yet still having very little command of my emotional muscles and tendons (a duality of theory/execution understood by anyone who has tried learning handstands or the butterfly stroke).

Here I’ll clean up and publish the monthly spreadsheet book reviews for your browsing pleasure!

The Fifth Season - N.K Jemisin

fic, scific | 10/10

The Fifth Season is fucking fabulous, the best scifi/fantasy I’ve read in a really long time. The worldbuilding is stunning and thorough, depicting tribalism and societal manipulation in nuanced and real ways that is Too Real, you don’t get sat down with an explanation of anything that’s going on so there’s a lot of discovery (including the fact that the book is ACTUALLY SCIFI) through narrative, and every realisation feels intentional and well-placed. Queer/poly/trans representation is presented without cringe-worthy tokenness, and in fact is really good. Pacing is amazing and doesn’t let up. Graphic narrative that is so strong I had to read out of the corner of my eyes during particularly intense scenes. The way abusive emotional relationships (between family members, a racial group vs society, between mentor and student) are depicted are so tragic and multifaceted that you aren’t yelling at characters for doing the Wrong Thing, you’re angonising about how horrible and confusing being a person is. The writing does a bit of the high fantasy air to it (maybe that’s why I thought it was fantasy at first) that usually annoys me but I stopped being epsilon annoyed by it as soon as the story picked up. READ. THIS BOOK.

(also whenever I see a non-male author going by initials I get flashbacks of JK Rowling being advised that people wouldn’t read Harry Potter with a feminine name on the cover.)

The Obelisk Gate - N.K Jemisin

fic, scific | read this if you liked the last one

The second book in the series, continuing from before. It doesn’t win your heart with novelty like the first book, but it takes more steps into scifi and provides explanations and continues at breakneck pace. I liked it as a second book, and the third one is coming out later this year \o/

Modern Operating Systems (Tanenbaum)

technical, computer science | good for unrefined systems ragamuffins (me)

I’m reading along as my sister takes her major’s operating system’s course. This book gets personal with touches of snark and is what feels like a pretty approachable introduction to OS stuff. Weirdly enough it’s patching up the gaps of knowledge I have acquired through my backalley self-education on distributed systems as a bystander to the container wars last year.

Limits to Growth

economy, systems | good ideas, probs not worth the entire read for most

I am about 40% through this book. It seems to be a textbook used in some undergrad courses, about the world as systems and I noticed the terminology being similar to that of Thinking in Systems (which I also read 40% of, last year) – because Donella Meadows is an author on both books! It introduces a lot of interesting, abstract ideas on political and social sustainability with regards to growth, and the pitfalls of how politicians and voters think about growth and rates of growth. I got stuck at the part where the book goes into detail about water, land, and other resource consumption facts, which, while interesting and worthwhile, are probably more suited for a research project than my vague goal of trying to understand the big picture of why the world is going to shit. I’m planning to return to this book next month, skipping that section and getting through the rest of the ideas (maybe post my notes?)

Training for the New Alpinism; Freedom of the Hills

Apparently Freedom of the Hills is the Mountaineering bible

Mountaineering books that I started reading when I moved to the northeast and thought I would do a lot of mountaineering this season! That didn’t really happen for a variety of reasons, but that’s okay I’m going to be so prepared next year! Also I can’t believe no one told me how good Freedom of the Hills is as an introduction to technical mountaineering. Jeez. It’s just great. Super technical and with pictures!

Ice World

technical, ice climbing | it’s like a story and also a manual

This is an older technical ice climbing book that I started to read from my gym’s little climbing library when I thought I would do ice climbing this season :P Same story as above. I like how it starts with a bunch of stories, and has a friendly narrative-approach to teaching, including a section where the author instructs the finer points of glacier traversal by documenting the process of teaching his wife through a hands-on expedition.

On The Road - Jack Kerouac

semi-autobiographical, travel, counterculture | DNF

I didn’t finish this book. I couldn’t get into Jack Kerouac’s prose or the story. Which is super sad, because I’m a iconoclast hippie dirtbag like Kerouac and I keep seeing good quotes from his writing and praise for this work and I really wanted to like it! At first pass it should have everything I like a lot: stories from the road, weird hitchhiking stuff, the windy, uncommited flow of consciousness style that I love in Didion and post-modernists like DFW. I really disliked the people the protag surrounds himself with and feel frustrated that I have to spend time with these characters, who feel kind of worthless and kind of like the type of trash I have long cut out of my own life, sexist attitudes and dishonesty and fuck-all laziness and apathy and self-pitiful ennui. I just don’t need to wade through the maturity level of the social landscape of this time in the author’s life I guess.

The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman

YA fic, childhood reread | exceeds expectations/recollection

The subject of childhood rereads came up when I was hanging out with elementary/middle school friends over winter holiday, and I picked The Golden Compass to revist.

HOW is this a children’s novel?? The protag being a prepubescent child is the only thing children about this book. It deals with loads of mature themes (balance of power between church/state, love between a semi-immortal and humans), geography and culture comes at you really fast and without much explanation, plays on alt-history with renamings of abstract concepts (science is called philosophy or theology, electricity is called anbaric) that are hard to catch without an early high school education and without understanding of which it would seem a lot of the magic and meaning in the story might be lost?? I certainly don’t remember catching ANY of this in my first readthrough (in middle school). In fact I have retained almost nothing from the first readthrough except that there were daemons and armoured bears, probably because it all went completely over my head but I liked bears and wanted a daemon. It 1000% feels like a young adult book written for adults. Even more so than stuff like The Hunger Games, which doesn’t feel nearly as nuanced! Hunger Games feels so straightforward and civil compared to this world, jesus.

My one gripe is that, once I step back a little from the action and world-building, the plot appears very deus ex machina. Pretty much all conflict is overcome by a third party that miraculously swoops in with exactly the correct skillset to perfectly conduct a rescue. This is forgivable, given that it IS a children’s novel so it’s supposed to read like a story/tale rather than realistic rendition of how the world works, and that the action and characters are really exciting and distract from the plot drop-ins. Also the characters really pop and are super fun. Great book, great re-read, the opposite of disappointment!