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2020 50 Book Challenge

Geoffrey Firmin

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50.Winners Take All:The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

Thoughtful polemic which first addressees how the rich decided that they were better than Government in addressing social problems, after they bankrupted Government with the GFC.

And an interesting historical account of the rise of popularism and Trump, basically explaining why we are up shit creek without a paddle.

However aside from affirming the role of Government in our society and we as individual shareholders in our nation. He does not offer a get out of this mess solution for the moral & ethical, climate emergency and (now) economic quagmire we are in.

The reason i picked this up is that I listened to him speak on CBC Ideas podcast. Highly recommended.
 

FlyingMonkey

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68. Baudolino by Umberto Eco.
For some reason I had never read this historial fantasy novel by one of favourite writers, Umberto Eco (RIP). And it's douby mystifying because it is exactly my thing. It's based on a combination of real historical events and personnages of the mid-C12th and early C13th and the worlds, peoples and beasts of the mediaeval imagination, and trips easily between the two, with Eco's costomary fluidity and ease with a massive range of knowledge. And, as usual with Eco, conspiracies and plots abound, characters, including or especially the narrator, are fundamentally untrustworthy, and diversions, blind alleys and shaggy-dog stories abound. It's not his best, but it's still all very satisfying to someone like me, however it will probably irritate the hell out of anyone who likes a straight story.
 

FlyingMonkey

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Have you read "The Enchantress of Florence" by Salman Rushdie? If you liked Baudolino you should enjoy it.
No, but I have avoided reading any Rushdie for quite a while... I might give it a try.
 

FlyingMonkey

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69. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo.
I've been reading two books with notable prose styles recently. More on the other one later. Bernadine Evaristo won the 2019 Booker Prize for Girl, Woman, Other, the 2019 Booker Prize winner, jointly with Margaret Atwood, which was ridiculous not least because Atwood hasn't written anything as good as this for some time. The novel consists of a series of life stories of black British women, immigrants and second and third generations, writers and shop assistants, actors and bus drivers, all of whom are in some way connected to the first character we're introduced to, Amma, a dramatist whose new play is about to enjoy its premiere at the National Theatre in London. I don't think I can praise this novel too highly. The characters live and breathe, the settings are alive whether they are in Britain or the USA or the Caribbean (and certainly the descriptions of life in a radical squat in London brough back some unpleasant memories!), and the politics are pointed and should embarass anyone who thinks that things are basically alright, aren't they? But above all, Iove the way this book is written. It's writte in poetic run-on sentences and in particularly I loved the way that Evaristo will sometimes break the rhythm

to write in a list
to make a point
to create an effect
to... (you get it).

Read this book.
 

Steve B.

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Good thread! You guys are reading some great stuff...

I don’t think I’ve read a book since 2018, ever since I got Prime and Netflix.

I’ve become a goddamned barbarian 😖

Thanks for New Year’s Resolution #1.
 

FlyingMonkey

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70. The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison
This is one of the most beautifully written books I've read for a long time. There are sentences that make you stop in your tracks and read them again, and not just one or two - the whole book is filled with powerful phrases, often cutting character sketches and pungent description. At its heart it's the story of two ageing British drifters, Shaw and Victoria, neither of whom really know what they are doing with their lives, which are almost entirely empty of meaning, ready to be filled by whatever they encounter, however pitiful that is. For a while that is each other, as they pursue a half-hearted relationship in Shaw's desultory and damp bedsit, but then they drift apart, with Victoria inheriting her late mother's house in a small castle town in the Welsh borders, complete with her mother's strange friends and neighbours. Water is everywhere in this book. Shaw's life is governed by the Thames, by canals, London ponds and his boss's obsession with a conspiracy theory about the aquatic origins of humanity; Victoria's by the River Seven which curves around her new home town, by saturated fields, by rain, endless rain and by visions of her new friends disappearing into strange lakes. Nothing much happens, until there's a weird and brutal crime towards the end of the book that is neither predictable nor resolving, there's no plot as such, just a feeling of damp uneasiness. When you've finished, you don't know exactly what you've just read or whether it was worth it.
 

Journeyman

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I'm not sure what number I'm up to, as I haven't been keeping track. However, I had to post about the latest book I read.



I wasn't even aware that one of my favourite authors had just published a new book, until I saw it in a bookstore window on Wednesday. I immediately purchased it, took it home, and read it one sitting. I would have loved to have taken longer, but I couldn't stop reading!

This book draws on some of the themes of Clark's previous work, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, in that it speaks of "magic" lurking under the surface of our normal lives, of other worlds of which we are not aware but that are just on the other side of the fabric of our everyday world. However, it is also a very different book, and it is much shorter (which some may appreciate).

I don't want to give away the plot so all I will say is that I thought it was wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
 

samtalkstyle

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46. Rum Punch - Elmore Leonard

A solid plot with an interesting variety of characters, as I've come to expect from Leonard.
It wasn't quite as much a page turner as Up In Honey's Room, but still a decent read.

This story was made into Tarantino's film Jackie Brown.
I haven't seen it. It's been on my list for a while, but after having read this I'm not sure a screen adaptation would hold my attention.
 

Marc Voorhees

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So I owe you all a bunch of books but I am at Barnes and noble right now, check this out. Freaking amazing

IMG_20201003_112614.jpg
IMG_20201003_112619.jpg
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FlyingMonkey

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71. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Unlike @Journeyman, I was aware this was out and specifically went into town today to get a copy, even if he got to it first! Unlike Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, this is not by any means a massive book, but it is just as compelling and I found myself more than half way through it after a leisurely lunch and the ferry ride back. And I couldn't stop there.
Piranesi is one of those stories that used to be called 'slipstream' or 'the new weird' and so on; at first it appears to be a surrealist fantasy, with a young man named (not by himself) after the Italian painter of endless dungeons, living apparently almost entirely alone in an world composed of seemingly infinite palatial rooms filled lined with statues of every kind of person and scene imaginable. The rooms themselves seem to contain worlds, oceans, clouds... but not other people, save for a few skeletal remains. Piranesi scribbles down his thoughts, his quest to understand this place, his regular meetings with 'the other', a researcher who seems to come from elsewhere, but where is that exactly? Gradually more is revealed but Piranesi at first can't face the reality of these revelations, which simply don't accord with the worldview that gives his life meaning.
I think this brightly written and almost completely satisfying short novel will bring Susanna Clarke new fans. With its off-centre but very European magical anthropology, it has things in common with someone like Italo Calvino, or John Crowley's Aegypt series or even M. John's Harrison's sensibility (see above), but is also wonderfully fresh. Definitely one of the best things I've read so far this year.
 

FlyingMonkey

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72. 16 Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker.
This is a workmanlike humorous (if not necessarily actually funny) fantasy novel by humorous (if not necessarily actually funny) fantasy novelist, Tom Holt, writing under a pseudonym, the need for which I don't quite understand - but then I never found Holt actually funny so perhaps he wanted to attract a new audience. It's a first-person narrative of an ethnic outsider in a powerful empire, who has overcome prejudice and poverty to be the Colonel-in-Chief of the imperial engineers. By his own account he is a coward who gets by on his brains and, as the song goes, with a little help from his friends. Anyway, he ends up in the imperial capital as it comes under siege by powerful forces unknown to anyone, and has to resort to every physical and social engineering tactic, ruse and scheme to defend the city. The writing is breezy, the characterisation and worldbuilding perfunctory at best, and it slips down without touching the sides. It is, as a result, really annoying and throughout I was reminded very strongly of a much better humorous (but this time actually funny) unreliable narrator story and couldn't think what it was - and then about 2/3 of the way through I remembered - it was the Murderbot novellas by Martha Wells. Yes, this novel's narration is like a vastly inferior fantasy version of Wells. Anyway, people who like this kind of thing will like this novel, especially if you're into engineering and are someone whose idea of a good time is reading about historical siege technologies. It's not bad.
 
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samtalkstyle

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47. Curtain - Agatha Christie

I actually read this a few books ago but it appears I forgot to add it to the list...

The end of the Poirot series, and quite an interesting ending with a solid twist.
 

FlyingMonkey

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73. John Woman by Walter Mosley.
When Walter Mosley is good, he's very, very good but when he's bad he's horrid. Whereas the Easy Rawlins novels are the good and he does sometimes produce brilliant stand-alone work like The Man in My Basement or Down the River Unto the Sea, his non-genre work can be very variable. He has certain obsessions that seem to come up over and over again, like good people committing murder, masturbation, BDSM and protagonists who are almost (or are in fact) preternaturally gifted or special to the point of messainism. In this one, the the charismatic academic of the title is the alias of a gifted young man from New York, who kills someone in partial self-defence, has a sado-masochistic affair with a tough women police officer, and then flees and reinvents himself as Professor John Woman. The university he's ended up teaching at is a curious place founded by a new age group in the Arizona desert, and nothing is quite what it seems. He has an affair with a student (but it's okay because she's using him... uh huh...) and is in love with a whore-with-a-heart-of-gold, but really wants his missing mother back. It all comes together looking for a conclusion which never happens. It's interspersed with his lectures and writings on history which are supposed to be inspirational but come across as either pretty mundane or the kind of things you think are really clever when you're stoned. Luckily Mosley can write, in fact I think his problem is that he writes too much, and maybe sometimes he should stop and ask himself if this story is really worth telling. A well-written bad book.
 

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