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2017 50 Book Challenge

Discussion in 'Entertainment, Culture, and Sports' started by edinatlanta, Dec 23, 2010.

  1. California Dreamer

    California Dreamer Senior member

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    32. Yours Until Death, by Gunnar Staalesen (2010)

    Yours Until Death is the first of the Varg Veum books translated into English although, oddly, not the first in the series. Based in Bergen in Norway, Varg is a dissolute small-time private investigator, and was formerly a Child Welfare officer. 

    The book opens with a young child walking into Varg's office seeking help recovering his bike from some vicious bullies. Varg agrees to help, and gradually starts to get involved with the boy and his recently-separated mother. After the mother asks Varg to talk to her ex-husband about child support, he sees him go into her flat where he is soon found dead, and she is found holding the murder weapon.

    Despite appearances, Veum refuses to believe that she can have done this and offers to help the defense investigation.

    The book is quite good without being highly original or surprising. Veum has a nice line in wisecracks but the character is not as memorable as Martin Beck or Kurt Wallander, for example. Staalesen gives him some depth by harking back to Veum's own unhappy childhood, but he doesn't do much with that, at least not yet. The book's real strength is Staalesen's prosaic descriptions of Bergen and its surrounds. One passage where he describes the sudden onset of Spring is excellent, as is the brooding presence he gives the mountain that glowers over this ancient city.
     
  2. clockwise

    clockwise Senior member

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    Clockwise counting 65/50: Salman Rushdie - Midnight's Children (1980)

    An epic tale about India, Pakistan and an amazing muslim family, written in the style of magical realism with a distinct Indian flavour. I see strong similarities with Faulkner and the recent Chinese Nobel laureate Mo Yan but while I may narrowly prefer Mo Yan's even more brutal and colourful narrative vein, this book mesmerized me very much in the same way. 

    1,001 children were born within the midnight hour of India's independence August 15, 1947, and these children were all given magical powers of various kind. The narrator, Saleem Sinai, who was the first (or second) child born at the stroke of that midnight of independence, is writing his autobiography to the single audience of his housemaid and wife-to-be. He tells a wonderful, magical and terrifying story of his Kashmir heritage, his Bombay upbringing and his politicisation in Pakistan. 

    I can't recommend this book highly enough but it is a very thick one and it is not always easy reading. Patience and stamina will be needed but this is doubtlessly great art. Must be one of the foremost achievements of modern literature.

    And.... this tale of the 1,001 midnight's children is obviously on the list of 1,001 books to read before you die.
     
  3. clockwise

    clockwise Senior member

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    I must read this. I am however now first pushing through Crime and Punishment which I once, long ago, abandoned well past halfway through. It depressed me terribly at the time but I find it less burdensome today at a more advanced age and possibly taste.

    It is strange that Kafka never depressed me like Dostoyevsky, his books are in many ways even darker and more claustrophobic. I have read most of Kafka and all three novels (Trial, Amerika, Castle) actually twice. For those who didn't yet read Kafka, it really is a must!!
     
  4. clockwise

    clockwise Senior member

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    You are really a connoisseur of Scandinavian crime. What about Stieg Larsson's trilogy? I must admit I haven't yet read it although I am as Swedish as that Muppet chef (but his use of the Swedish language is a bit more eloquent than mine).
     
  5. LonerMatt

    LonerMatt Senior member

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    41. The Communist Hypothesis

    A book about communist theory. Slow going, joyless, at times interesting, but pretty boring to be honest.
     
  6. Steve B.

    Steve B. Senior member

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    84. The Hit David Baldacci 2013

    Will Robie teams up with a rogue agent to solve a plot designed to create a new world order.

    It was pretty good. Robie is my favorite Baldacci character.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2013
  7. California Dreamer

    California Dreamer Senior member

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    I read those as soon as they came out in English. I believe the original title in Swedish was Men Who Hate Women. Reading the full trilogy, you can see the reason for that; the progressive Larssen was writing a serious critique of Swedish society.However his posthumois publishers chose to focus all the attention on the Salander character and play her up to the hilt. In the process, I think Larssen's intent was lost.
     
  8. Steve B.

    Steve B. Senior member

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    85. Crome Yellow Aldous Huxley 1921

    [COLOR=FF00AA]LIST[/COLOR]

    Huxley's first novel, about a group of Bohemians right after the great war summering at an English estate called Crome. The protagonist writes bad poetry and has painful encounters with the opposite sex. He foreshortens his holiday because of these.

    So-so. Certainly not the caliber of Brave New World.
     
  9. LonerMatt

    LonerMatt Senior member

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    42. While Mortals Sleep

    A collection of Kurt Vonnegut short stories. As an unashamed fan of KV, this was enjoyable, but as someone who has read a compilation previously (Welcome to the Monkey House) I felt these stories were generally weaker (although the last one was excellent). Entirely personable, human, savvy and conscionable.
     
  10. Journeyman

    Journeyman Senior member

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    LM, you should keep an eye out for "Bagombo Snuff Box", another collection of KV short stories.
     
  11. clockwise

    clockwise Senior member

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    Clockwise counting 66/50: John Le Carre - A Delicate Truth (2013)

    The grandmaster of espionage fiction is 82 years old and can still write better than almost anyone else. This is maybe not up to the absolute top standard of my favourites The Honourable Schoolboy or The Spy Who Came in From the Cold but it is nevertheless very good and always entertaining. Better, I would say, than anything he has written for a long time. 

    This is about how the gung-ho New Labour in the War against Terror sets aside law and moral to go after enemies. They do so together with a private defence contractor from Houston, Texas and any scandals are elegantly covered up. A young foreign servant and a retired diplomat are risking a lot to become whistle blowers. The British government are the bad guys.
     
  12. aKula

    aKula Senior member

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    13. The Twelve Caesars - Suetonius

    Biographies of the first twelve roman emperors written in the 2nd Century AD. Not surprisingly many had already become exaggerated figures of the imagination. The usual pattern for the more notorious seems to have been a steady descent into dark megalomania. It is also an interesting source for learning about Roman culture and the political system. Suitably came with a recommendation from Gore Vidal on the back cover.
     
  13. Steve B.

    Steve B. Senior member

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    86. Cat and Mouse 1961 Gunter Grass

    [COLOR=FF00AA]LIST[/COLOR]

    Chronicle of a schoolboy German oddster during WWII. He has a prodigious Adam's Apple. The other kids called it a mouse and set a cat upon his throat as a joke. Hence the title. Also a prodigiously proportioned penis. And an odd devotion to the Virgin Mary.

    I liked it. Hoping Tin Drum (supposedly Gass' best) is also on the list.
     
  14. clockwise

    clockwise Senior member

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    Clockwise counting 67/50: Neil Young - Waging Heavy Peace (2012)

    Neil Young has been very important to me and many of his 1970s albums remain on my personal all-time top list. After having seen that his auto-biography got such good reviews, I really looked forward to read about the man and what had gone wrong with Buffalo Springfield and CSNY. To my disappointment, Neil is revealing very little indeed and this 500 page book reads very much as a long thank-you-list to all the wonderful people he has worked with and known over the past five decades.

    The man is a genius songwriter but alas not a genius autobiographer. In my view, this is for hardcore fans only.
     
  15. clockwise

    clockwise Senior member

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    Clockwise counting 68/50: Yasunari Kawabata - Snow Country (1948)

    This is the first book I read from Nobel Prize winning Kawabata and it is undoubtedly a little masterpiece. An independently wealthy young man from Tokyo, a certain Shimamura, takes frequent short vacations at a hot spring resort in the mountains. He meets the geisha Komako and a love affair develops. Komako's love is pure but agonizing and self sacrificial in nature. A bitter sweet tragedy which could never have a happy ending.
     
  16. California Dreamer

    California Dreamer Senior member

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    I've read that a few times and I Splurged on the Folio edition too. I really like it as both history and as a gripping read. It's obvious that Robert Graves relied heavily on Suetonius when he wrote I Claudius
     
  17. clockwise

    clockwise Senior member

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    Clockwise counting 69/50: JM Coetzee - The Childhood of Jesus (2013)

    After his later more autobiographical works, Coetzee is back with one of those enigmatic allegorical novels that leaves you fascinated and with many questions in your mind. This book has nothing to do with Jesus as far as I can see but it is about a strange childhood experience and about a loving relationship between a middle aged man who is thrown into a guardian / father role and a child who has lost his parents. The two arrive in a mysterious Spanish speaking country, lacking memories of their past and they have to start life anew in a peculiar socialist type backwards country which is full of goodwill but lacking in deep emotions and meaning.

    The child turns out to be unusual, very gifted but also rebellious and hard to understand. His middle aged guardian is persisting in giving the child a good life but the Kafkaesque environment makes life very complicated indeed. I have read a few reviews of this book and while the reviewers praise Coetzee's language and obvious philosophical depth, no one seems to have a good interpretation of what the story is actually about. I loved it! This is, in my view, defintely one of Coetzee's best novels but possibly the hardest to understand.
     
  18. clockwise

    clockwise Senior member

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    Clockwise counting 70/50: Cornell Woolrich - Night has a Thousand Eyes (1945)

    Reached 70 within 7 months so I feel moderately confident to do 100 within the full 12.

    I like these Crime Noirs from the 1930s to 1950s, even when they sometimes are full of gross simplifications and very doubtful psychology. This one is a classic but full of flaws. A reclusive old man has the magical gift of seeing future events and he predicts the death of a wealthy businessman "in the jaws of a lion" at the stroke of midnight a certain date in the near future. The police are amazingly convinced that the prediction will come true if they don't try to prevent the inevitable. A psychological thriller with a race against time. The ending leaves more questions than answers and is ultimately not satisfactory.
     
  19. Steve B.

    Steve B. Senior member

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    87. David Baldacci The Simple Truth 1998

    Centers around a military man jailed for 25 years for a crime he didn't commit. Lots of juicy permutations and unexpected plot twists. I liked it.
     
  20. California Dreamer

    California Dreamer Senior member

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    33. Questions of Travel, by Michelle de Kretser (2012)

    Michelle de Kretser's Miles Franklin winning novel uses travel as a lens to look at two drastically different protagonists: Laura, a footloose middle-class Australia; and Ravi, a Sri Lankan caught up in that country's brutal civil war. The book follows their life journeys, which ultimately intersect at a travel publishing firm (where else?).

    The first third of the novel mainly deals with the interminably boring Laura and her mundane roaming around the usual tourist spots of Asia and Europe. Just as the reader is about to nod off, de Kretser hits you with a head-snapping plot twist that transforms this novel into something very different. The pace and tension pick up from there but unfortunately de Kretser cannot sustain it. The story she tells of Ravi's experiences is emotional, nuanced and topical. However Laura's story is cliched and bathetic, unable to be saved by a surprise ending.

    The questions of the title are posed through the key characters' stories. One is "what am I doing here?". Another is "why does everybody have to leave in the end?", immediately followed by "when will it be my turn to leave?'. These deep questions are a great theme for the novel, but could have been much more tellingly explored by cutting Laura's character to the bare minimum and placing the focus on Ravi's more compelling odyssey. In the process, a good editor could have cut 150 pages from an unnecessarily long novel.
     

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