My Bookshelf – Autumn 2016

It’s been awhile since my last post. Apologies for the absence, it’s been a busy few months. Upcoming posts on last weekend’s LISDIS Conference where I presented my dissertation research and a short series on expat stuff.

My bookshelf is a bit of a non-fiction bonanza this autumn – enjoy! Also new this post, a link to this “shelf” on Goodreads if you want to have a look here.

Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant
An excellent book – I cannot recommend highly enough. Appropriately enough picked up in Lemuria in Jackson, MS on our last visit. Grant is a British expat in the US who moves from New York City to an old plantation house in ultra-rural Pluto in the Mississippi Delta. Ensue massive culture shock. This is one of best explorations on race I’ve ever read, as well as being a brilliant picture of today’s Southern culture – hospitality, food, music and people who still deeply value family and community.

Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow
A book I picked up for seminar prep for summer camp this year. Highly recommend this book by Christian author Dillow about womanhood, the Christian faith and anxiety.

Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh
This was a fascinating account of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict told from the perspective of a Palestinian human rights lawyer who loves nature and hiking through the land he grew up in. It was a welcome read for me having visited Israel but not learned much about the Palestinian side of the issue. The conflict is visceral as Shehadeh describes coming under gunfire on walks and how he can no longer walk in many of the places he used too because of Jewish settlements. Very sobering and very sad with no resolution in sight.

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi
Another interesting but very weird pick from my library’s sci-fi section. Set in the distant future where space travel is the norm and you can download your consciousness where ever you like. It was difficult going both because this is actually the second in a trilogy (The Quantum Thief is book one) and his writing style offers no help for the reader as Rajaniemi freely creates a universe with its own terminology, technology and cultures with no explanation at all as to what he’s talking about. It’s called “show, don’t tell” apparently and I didn’t get on with it I’m afraid.

Into the Black by Rowland White
A gift indulging one of my nerd interests – space travel and NASA. This book tells the very riveting story of the development of the engineering marvel that is the Space Shuttle. Lots of big personalities, behind the scenes anecdotes and surprisingly accessible science. The orbiter main engines were beyond cutting edge at the time…the heat shield took decades to develop and implement…the first astronauts were either ex-military test pilots or from the top secret National Reconnaissance Office…I’ll stop geeking out now, go read this if you’re interested in NASA.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copland
Memoir by the first African American principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre, one of the world’s top ballet companies. As an ex-ballet dancer, I was interested in this story and also Copland’s troubled childhood and barrier breaking career is quite inspiring. A good read and still accessible for the non-dance aficionado.

My Bookshelf – Spring 2016

Makers by Cory Doctorow
I’m becoming a bit of a Doctorow fan girl as you can see since there are two of his books in this list. This was an interesting though lengthy novel about two guys who make stuff (the “makers”) starting a bit of a work revolution with 3-D printers and other technology and the journalist who documents this. It’s not all ‘let’s take over the world!’ rather it charts the story over the decades and what happens when your dreams go sour. Worth a read purely for the ever interesting ideas that Doctorow comes up with.

Information Shouldn’t be Free by Cory Doctorow
Highly recommend this short book on copyright, intellectual property and digital technology aimed at your average Joe in the creative industries. Doctorow takes a dull, complex topic and explains it clearly with fascinating insights and examples. His key aim is working out how indies and the majors can successfully co-exist. Thankfully it’s not a work of imagination; concrete ideas are in abundance. If you want to make a living from your art, read this book.

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
I picked this up because I’d read the excellent crime novel, The Dante Club by the same author. Sadly it didn’t live up to my expectations. The premise is a fan and contemporary of Edgar Allan Poe investigates his untimely death with the help of the real life inspiration for a Poe detective character. The first half of the novel is mainly spent sitting around in libraries reading newspapers (I’m only exaggerating slightly). It does pick up at the end, but the characters are not very well sketched and the first-person, plummy Victorian voice starts to grate.

A Conspiracy of Violence by Susanna Gregory
The tagline hooked me in on this one (darn those marketers!): ‘Decadence and deceit in Restoration London.’ My musicology dissertation was on this period, and I’m a sucker for any related material. Everyone is a bit confused about whether this is the first in the Thomas Chaloner series or not. Nonetheless it still made sense. Read on holiday, the gripping plot, interesting characters and spot on historicity kept the pages turning.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
Tartt, an award winning author, comes recommended by many. She’s also a Mississippi native and many of her novels are set in the South so that was of interest to me. The Little Friend chronicles the fall out from the unsolved killing of a young boy in rural Mississippi. To her credit, Tartt brilliantly paints the Southern small town and her characters are vivid…but it’s all very dark. She uses themes of unintended consequences, chaos/order and characters’ fruitless pursuit of meaning, justification and redemption. At over 500 pages it’s long too (she publishes about a book a decade so they tend to be door stoppers). So by all means read her work but don’t expect a sunny day out.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I absolutely loved this book! I am a bit of space geek but this was so much fun and much better than the movie. Set during a future manned Mars mission where one astronaut gets stranded and has to figure out how to survive using his wits, mechanical engineer/botantist skills and a lot of duct tape. Very funny and apparently fairly accurate on the space science, highly recommend this one.

No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley
This was some emergency reading material picked up on our recent trip to the States and it was definitely good travel reading. Bowley, a NY Times journalist, chronicles (using extensive research) the disastrous August 2008 climbing season when 11 climbers died on K2 the second highest mountain on Earth.

The Lent Factor by Graham James
The premise of this book is a series 40 pen portraits of people who had influenced the author. It was interesting but I found the whole concept a bit pompous (writing about 40 people with you at the center…), especially when he writes about people I’d never heard of as if only hermits did not know these names.

My Bookshelf – Winter 2015

New this post: I’ve made a Pinterest board of my bookshelf for all you visual people out there!

Follow Megan’s board My Bookshelf – Winter 2015 on Pinterest.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

This novel is the first in the Mary Russell series and came highly recommended from my sister. In fan-fiction mode, King reimagines Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic characters (Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson etc) but sets the novel in Edwardian England when Holmes is semi-retired. Mary Russell is a young woman who becomes Holmes’ apprentice and then partner/assistant in crime solving. I really enjoyed this, both for the exciting plot and the plummy idiom in which King writes.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Highly recommend this. Set in modern-day-ish rural Mississippi, the novel explores race, prejudice, identity and how people’s perceptions of events can change them. Franklin brilliantly crafts voices that are at first racially ambiguous (at least to me they were), all the while keeping race as a central theme.

Rags and Bones, edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

Book of sci-fi short stories where the authors take various fairy tales/stories as inspiration. Weird, wonderful and sometimes very challenging. One that particularly struck me was a futuristic, nihilisitc love story by Rick Yancey where an elite has conquered death by means of downloading your personality into a new body (Dollhouse anyone?), whilst the rest of humanity live and die and serve the rich folks. Neil Gaiman’s reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty was also quite good.

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea by Adam Roberts

This was an interesting book that went mental from the middle point onward. Referencing Jules Verne’s classic work, Roberts sets up the story on a top secret French nuclear submarine’s maiden voyage. The first dive is begun but then somehow the sub keeps descending for, you guessed it, trillions of leagues into an implied other dimension/world. Highly fantastical, the crew encounter all sorts of crazy things both outside the sub and within themselves.

The Portable Door by Tom Holt

Picked this up randomly from my local library, based on the blurb which said Holt was similar to Terry Pratchett or some such. Started oddly but then turned into a very quirky and funny novel about magic and awkward Brits!

The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland

Another random pick from my library based on the plot blurb (circus acts in Victorian London). Interesting characters including *spoiler* an amnesiac man who cannot be hurt or seemingly ever die who, it’s implied at the end, is a fallen angel. The novel was a bit sex-obsessed, not in terms of racy scenes but what the characters were concerned with / valued. Interesting concept but a bit tiresome and angst-ridden!

The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks

I don’t read much non-fiction but this was excellent. A diary cum memoir about life as a shepherd in the Lake District. Fascinating reading about such a different way of life and how Rebanks reconciles their ancient customs with the modern world.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Finally got round to reading this best seller set in a city I used to live in, Jackson, MS. Brilliant story about race and friendship amongst women in the 1960s when things were still really bad in Jackson (a period still within living memory). Well worth your time.