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review 2018-06-11 00:14
Book: A Novel
Book: A Novel - Robert Grudin

This book is super weird.  I can't describe it, so I'm including the book's description:

 

The English department at the University of Washagon is in a uproar. Professor Adam Snell - humanist, scholar, gadfly and faculty pariah - has disappeared without a trace.

 

Stranger still, all copies of his obscure but brilliant novel, Sovrana Sostrata, also seem to be missing.

 

Has Snell been murdered? Has his book been murdered? And, more important, if Snell is not dead, does his department have the power to fire him at his upcoming post-tenure review?

 

So begins Book, a hilarious academic caper that lampoons clever critical theorists, spoofs the New York book-publishing scene, parodies at least seventeen separate literary forms and unleashes Frank Underwood, a deranged theorist with a high-powered target pistol - and a pathological hatred for Adam Snell.

 

And that's just for starters.

 

Book also contains [...], a genetically engineered garden weed, a power-crazed, sexually dazed chairwoman, a novel accused of rape and a revolt of footnotes that halts the text.

 

Honestly, the footnotes are the BEST part of this book.  For too short a time, they are the Aeslin mice of weird academic satire.  They alone are responsible for the extra 1/2 star.  1/2 star was deducted because of violence against animals - the scene was abrupt, short and shocking.  It was over before I realised it happened; otherwise, I'd have DNF'd on the spot.  Grudin didn't need to include it to make the story work, so I'm left with feeling like a brilliant, funny book is badly dinged by the gratuitous violence.  I'm also rating 1/2 star generously, because satire does not always come easy to me, so some of the things that felt off to me, I'm giving the benefit of the doubt; I might have just missed the point.

 

Otherwise, the book was just weird.  Weird and fun.  The third person narrator is Grudin himself, telling the story about Adam Snell, who also interacts directly with the reader.  The chapters of narrative are interspersed with chapters of what can only be described as randomness, but I found if I just went with it, it worked.  The randomness was often amusing, sometimes pertinent to the story, and provided a nice breather - much like putting a book down would do, but without losing your sense of place.  Between each chapter are small sections relating the history of books and bookselling, excerpted from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  

 

I really don't know how to describe it with any accuracy, but it's a great read, especially if you have spent any time working in higher education; the university politics and personalities are spot-on.  But if you don't like, or are not in the mood for, non-traditional story structure, you might want to give this book a pass.  The author plays with the story's structure, makes it part of the satire and humor, and if a loosey-goosey structure isn't your thing, Book: A Novel is going to irritate you.

 

And really, this might be the only book you'll find a footnote proclaiming: "Call me Ishmael. I was once Melville's footnote."

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text 2018-05-06 19:08
DNF: Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart
Absurdistan - Gary Shteyngart

DNF not quite halfway through. In the beginning I was impressed by the fine line this book walks between annoyance and charm. The word I thought of to best describe it was "rambunctious." Then I thought, "Will this 'rambunction' get old?" And it basically did. Or maybe I'm just not in the mood for satire of life 15+ years ago when the present is even crazier. Like, we're living a satire right now. I will say I enjoyed the physicality that Shteyngart revels in; that's rare. On the other hand, I could do without the meta quality, references to an author with a name like Shteyngart's who published a novel that sounds like his debut novel.

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review 2018-03-28 19:23
How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe - Charles Yu

With only TAMMY - a slightly tearful computer with self-esteem issues - a software boss called Phil - Microsoft Middle Manager 3.0 - and an imaginary dog called Ed for company, fixing time machines is a lonely business and Charles Yu is stuck in a rut. He's spent the better part of a decade navel-gazing, spying on 39 different versions of himself in alternate universes (and discovered that 35 of them are total jerks). And he's kind of fallen in love with TAMMY, which is bad because she doesn't have a module for that. With all that's on his mind, perhaps it's no surprise that when he meets his future self, he shoots him in the stomach. And that's a beginner's mistake for a time machine repairman. Now he's stuck in a time loop, going in circles forever. All he has, wrapped in brown paper, is the book his future self was trying to press into his hands. It's called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. And he's the author. And somewhere inside it is the information that could save him.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Author Charles Yu writes himself in as the protagonist of his novel here, presenting himself as a fictional Yu working as a time traveling technician on Minor Universe 31, his job primarily being to repair heavily used time traveling machines.

 

In this universe, (fictional) Yu's father invented time travel, but has been missing for quite some time. Yu's mother is locked into a one hour time loop -- that is, she can only live one precise hour of her entire life over and over again -- where she basically just makes dinner repeatedly. Ugh, can you imagine the horror of that?!

 

Chronological living is kind of a lie. That's why I don't do it anymore. Existence doesn't have more meaning in one direction than it does in any other. Completing the days of your life in strict calendar order can feel forced. Arbitrary. Especially after you've seen what I've seen. Most people I know live their lives moving in a constant forward direction, the whole time looking backward. 

 

Yu decides he wants to try to find his father. With the help of a book written by his future self and TAMMY, an operating system with incredibly low self esteem, he sets out on a space journey of mind-bending proportions through the space-time continuum. He uses time travel to move through memories and alternate scenarios looking for clues to his father's current whereabouts. The journey takes quite a complicated turn when Yu accidentally shoots his future self and has to dive into the closest time loop to try to escape the situation from escalating any further. But ooooh the mess this makes of things! 

 

It can sometimes get confusing keeping it all straight: In the early parts of the story, when fictional Charles is in and around his hometown, he lives and works out of his vehicle, the TM-31, but here's where it gets really wild. Minor Universe 31 is a world made of all the things we know of from science FICTION, but fictional Charles can travel in and out of areas throughout the universe that work in REAL time, such as Earth. When it comes to the US, in fictional Charles' world, ages ago Los Angeles and New York merged so now the States as a whole are basically considered one gigantic city! In this world, US citizens now live across the land in boroughs with names like Capital City, Lost City, Verse City, and New Tokyo ("old" Tokyo broke off from its original position, floated away until it attached to the landmass of the States). 

 

Established science fiction readers will likely have a fun time geeking out to all the Star Wars references and the plot reminiscent of a Douglas Adams novel. Even some similarities to Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series can be found here. But if you're entirely new to the genre, this book could prove to be a befuddling place to start your sci-fi journey. 

 

I was never totally sure why everyone wanted to be Han Solo. Maybe it was because he wasn't born into it, like Luke, with the birthright and the natural talent for The Force and the premade story. Solo had to make his own story. He was a freelance protagonist, a relatively ordinary guy who got to the major leagues by being quick with a gun and a joke. He was, basically, a hero because he was funny. Whatever the reason, first place was always Solo, always, always, always, and second place was usually Chewbacca, because if you weren't the one saving the galaxy, you might as well be eight feet tall and covered with hair. 

 

Portions of the story moved beyond clever into slightly irritating ramblings, especially the metaphysical points that continued for pages and pages before we are able to get back to the story. Module Y -- this novel is broken up into "modules" rather than "parts" -- felt like it went on FOREVER. 

 

The humor was undeniably enjoyable, but when it came to TAMMY's (the operating system) depression, I had hoped for a little more humor worked in there... she did have minor jokes here and there but a lot of her end of the story brought the whole madcap-ish tone of the novel down a bit for me. For this point, I refer back to the master, Douglas Adams, on how to incorporate heavy themes in a more light-hearted way. As a whole, the story is a fun, sometimes head-scratching, "wait, what did I just read?" ride. While I think I preferred the first half of the story over the second, I did really like the epilogue entitled "Appendix A".

 

 

 

 

-----------

 

EXTRAS

 

* How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe is Charles Yu's debut novel and was partly inspired by Yu's reading of The Fabric Of Reality by David Deutsch

 

* Charles Yu has been awarded the National Book Foundation's 5 under 35 Award and the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award for his short story collections. 

 

* In the acknowledgements of this book, Yu gives a nod to his wife, saying, "Thank you for being the best version of yourself, even when I'm my worst." ♥

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review 2018-03-28 11:27
A Double Barrelled Detective Story
A Double Barrelled Detective Story - Lucius Hitchcock,Mark Twain

I'm not sure what to say about this one.  I can't say I'm particularly well read in Mark Twain's works, but I've read enough that I expected a level of satiric humor that I didn't immediately find.  In fact, the story started out rather dark, tragic and confronting.  About 10% of the way through, a hint of absurdity, but still dark.  

 

It's not until midway through Part II of the story that it started to really feel like something written by Twain, and mind you, I've still not seen a hint of Sherlock Holmes.  I was starting to feel robbed.  It's also at this point that it sort of feels like Twain lost the reigns of the story; it scatters all over the place with suddenly changing POVs and focus.  Not so scattered, though, that it wasn't apparent where Twain was going, the set-up for the twist of irony.

 

Then, finally, Sherlock Holmes enters the scene.  Twain is known for his scathing satire, so it's no surprise that Holmes does not come out looking like the paragon he is, but at the same time, Twain is skewering everyone else too, and somehow it makes it easier to sit back and laugh at the absurdity of it all.  Even though the plot had lost most of its focus, it was still the most enjoyable part of the story for me.

 

I'm glad I discovered this book and story - I thoroughly enjoyed it - but it's clear why it's not a well-known work of Twain's.  It's worth reading for Holmes fans for the sheer novelty, if nothing else, and I adore my copy.  But for those without the sentimental streak for Holmes, it's best experienced via Gutenberg or an anthology of Twain's work. 

 

This fits the Kill Your Darlings game card for Crime Scene: Dark Tower, as it takes place out west and is written by an American author.

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review 2018-03-10 05:27
Hardcore Twenty-four (Stephanie Plum, #24)
Hardcore Twenty-Four - Janet Evanovich

Why yes, I'm still reading these.  No, Stephanie hasn't chosen Morelli or Ranger.  Yes, she's still destroying every car she touches, and no, she's still not all that good at her job.

 

In a world where if feels like I'm constantly pissed off because someone has changed their stock/location/rules, the constancy that is Stephanie Plum is a welcome relief and when Evanovich is on her game, the humor is worth the static world of the Burg (Berg?).  

 

I'd say Evanovich is on her game for Twenty-four.  Diesel makes an appearance, which leaves me wondering if his spin off series has died a premature death.  Zombies are also a big part of the plot and that plot is ... yech.   Just... yech.  

 

It occurred to me while reading this book why the love triangle doesn't bother me:  neither the Stephanie/Ranger nor the Stephanie/Morelli dynamic is very deep.  There's love, yes, but nobody is deeply emotionally attached.  Instead there's a lot of affection, respect (ok, maybe not a LOT), and humor.  Everybody involved is satisfied with the status quo, and since I've never been all that insistent that sex be about love, I too am happy with the status quo.

 

The topper for me though, was the scene involving the groundhog.  To say more would be to spoil it for anyone who might someday read it, except to say, even though I saw it coming a mile away, I still laughed till I cried.  And that's why I'm still reading these books.  

 

Hardcore Twenty-four met the criteria for the Kill Your Darlings Cause of Death card:  Revolver:  Read a book that involves a character that carries a gun.  Stephanie rarely has a gun, but every other character in the book carries at least one, including her grandmother.

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