What I’ve Been Reading, September 2015

Hey look! My first ever review-type post. Maybe I could review these book-by-book, and dedicate entire posts to each, but I don’t feel like it. Here’s what I’ve been reading.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams – I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I was eager to see how the story would wrap up in this one. I’m not going to recap what these books are about, because you should already know, and it doesn’t matter.

Like the first one, the book is hysterical, full of wonderful pithy gems and subversive creativity. It’s also full of casual nihilism and comic brutality, which I so enjoyed in the first one. The repeated plot device of mortal peril was tiring though, and the randomness became dull. The characters are very reactionary, but don’t take action on any of their own desires (whatever those are, I couldn’t get a firm sense of it for any of them.) It’s definitely worth a read though, and I’m definitely going to read the next one some time—just not as solid as the first book.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor – This book excels in every way I’d hoped, and in ways I didn’t even expect. The world is one I haven’t seen, complicated, surprising, and beautiful. Attempting to explain it wouldn’t do it justice, so I’ll just name three items found within it: camel racing, eleventh-year rites, and juju. The protagonist is terrific as well. There’s a tendency in fantasy books to have a Strong Female Character—and no matter how well developed, you can sense that the point of her is to be a Strong Female Character who Breaks Expectations. Onyesonwu, the protagonist of this book, is not that. She’s driven, arrogant, impassioned, and incredibly human. The book is in first-person, and her voice and personality are gripping.

The narrative, driven by that character, keeps a good pace, and twists and turns wonderfully. The book is a hero’s journey, but one that rebukes cliches, and feels fresh. On top of all this, the book is unrestrainedly honest. Even in a section of the book where Onyesonwu comes across a wholly different society, one that’s almost utopic, the sorcerer of the town is still a sexist. I adored this book from start to finish, and can’t wait to pick up more from Okorafor.

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens – Dombey and Son is a difficult book to review, because it covers so much dramatic ground in its 900 plus pages. The books chiefly follows Paul Dombey, his son, and his daughter—Dombey being the head of the firm Dombey and Son—but there are a lot of other characters and subplots. Rather than tell you what it’s about (I’m not sure I could pin it down precisely), I’ll tell you that the book has both a shakespearean cast of characters and shakespearean plotting, wrought epically across 52 chapters, in which the most minor side-scenes and persons all eventually come to fruition.

Dickens’s style is, as with any classic writer, striking. At times it’s incredibly descriptive, at others dryly hysterical, and most often it’s both. The minor characters had me constantly laughing as well, while the major characters were compelling, and thoroughly examined. The treatment of these characters, their development, and the journeys they go on are as emotionally moving as the best written plays. Have I made enough theatrical references? It’s because this book handles characters as well as theatre does, which is as high a mark as saying a book handles action as well as a graphic novel does. There were certainly chapters that dragged, or twists I found a bit hard to buy, but overall I had a great time reading the book.

So, that’s what I’ve been reading. Since I read a ton of books at once, I’ve actually been reading more than this, but this is what I’ve finished recently. Next I’ll probably talk about Little Dorrit—another Dickens book—Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov, and maybe Don Quixote by this obscure guy you’ve probably never heard of.

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