Monday, March 24, 2014

Extreme Birder (by Lynn E. Barber)

This book was a birthday gift from my sister, who knows me oh so well. It's an account of Lynn Barber's birding big year in 2008. At the time, it was the third biggest big year total ever recorded, the largest total that did not include the Alaskan island of Attu (which closed to birders before her big year began), and the highest big year total for a female birder. John Vanderpoel and Neil Hayward* have since respectively tied and broken the big year record, but if there were a such thing as the "woman's record," Lynn Barber would still have it at 723 birds seen in the ABA area in one year.

If you found that paragraph unbearably nerdy and boring, then this book is not for you! I think that unlike Kingbird Highway, which I could see appealing to non-birders, this is aimed pretty squarely at birders. It is a journal-style account of her year (although a few times there are some slightly confusing parentheticals clearly written later), and it might read kind of dry or prosaic or terse if you weren't a birder. It is full of wonderful color photos on almost every page and some short poems and paintings throughout, all done by Barber. Clearly a labor of love and for birding nerds like me, so much fun to read.

*I am still very bitter I didn't discover Neil Hayward's blog until his big year was over. He is now the big year record holder and it would have been so much fun to follow along. I'm currently reading Biking for Birds, by a guy doing a totally self-powered big year, and it's awesome. I'll be really interested to see if he hits 600 birds this year.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Oryx and Crake (by Margaret Atwood)

This is one of my "clear off the shelf" reads, as I've had it for a while. Mild spoilers below; I won't spoil any of the excellent twists.

I think it was recommended to me as having an unreliable narrator; Snowman isn't exactly unreliable, he just withholds the full story until the end. There's clearly been some type of catastrophic apocalyptic event, and Snowman's struggle to survive (reminiscent of The Road) is juxtaposed with the story of his history. Atwood presents an incredibly inventive dystopia, with corporations playing god, splicing animals together and creating genetic superhumans, and we all know it's headed somewhere extremely bad. It is extremely blackly funny at points, but goes to some dark places too, like websites that have live streams of executions, suicides, stuff that's too horrible to even spell out.

The world Atwood creates is all too plausible, with the effects of climate change, the rich/poor divide, the desire for youth, the strength of corporations, all going to extreme conclusions. It reminded me of The Road, as I said above, and also Gravity in terms of its question of what there is for Snowman to live for once everything is gone. Also the Sonmi sections of Cloud Atlas, since there are some dystopican similarities. And it was a page-turner for sure. There are apparently two other books in the series, and now I want to read them, so my efforts to reduce my to-read list have apparently backfired on me with this one.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Attachments (by Rainbow Rowell)

I enjoyed Eleanor & Park and Fangirl so much that I decided to read her first book, written in 2011 but set in 1999, about an IT guy whose job it is to read his company's flagged email, and the women whose email conversations intrigue him a little too much.

This is a fun, fast read, and I enjoyed the flashback to the internet world of 1999. It's set at a newspaper and right before Y2K, so the setting isn't gratuitous, it's necessary as a driver of the plot. I found the character of Lincoln (the protagonist) incredibly appealing. It didn't necessarily wrap up in any sort of realistic way, but it was still satisfying.

Love Rainbow Rowell, will keep reading her stuff.


Saturday, March 08, 2014

Reread: Brideshead Revisited (by Evelyn Waugh)

Memory Reaction:

I know it's been a really long time since I read this one. All I remembered was a lot of homoerotic subtext, Julia and Sebastian being the main love interest characters, and Jeremy Irons in the miniseries version.

Reread Reaction:

Spoilers below.

So that subtext I remembered? Nope, that's pretty much text. I started highlighting a bunch of places where Waugh might as well have written "and then we had a lot of full-on gay sex." There's one scene early on where Charles is staring at Sebastian's mouth when he smokes, thinking how pretty he is, and then a paragraph break, and then, like, "Later, after we left...." There are kind of a lot of those moments. And Julia is pretty clear about it later on, too. And Charles doesn't seem to be in denial about it either, everyone is pretty much, yep, we were in love. What struck me this time around is that by the end of the novel, Julia is supposed to be the real love of his life, and Sebastian is "the forerunner" but I never quite bought it. I wanted Sebastian to turn up again for a tension-filled reunion. (I don't think this is my penchant for Johnlock fanfic talking, either. At least not completely.) Would have been way more powerful if he was haunting the halls of Brideshead when Charles came back. Then again, it's not like Julia was there either, but that relationship at least got some closure.

I had also completely forgotten about the framing device (Charles coming back to Brideshead after a number of years) even though that's what the title refers to, so I'm not sure how that happened. I had also forgotten the religious theme, even though that's basically the central issue of the book. It's all about Catholic guilt! As an ex-Catholic, no wonder I liked it so much. I don't think I loved it as much as the first time around, but I did enjoy it.

Previous Review:

As before, I waited until typing the above before going back to read my previous review, to see how they match up. Currently it can only be found via the Wayback Machine, it was that long ago. May of 2003. And I didn't love it the first time around either. God, it's embarrassing to go back and read my old reviews. But I still basically agree with myself, although I wasn't nearly as upset about the ending or as annoyed about Sebastian, so maybe I'm mellowing.  The real question is, why did I think this was one of my favorite novels? It kind of isn't?

Scroll down one review and you get to my rhapsodic love for The Wings of the Dove, though. I absolutely must reread that one. But next up is the book I last read so long ago it was before I had an online journal: Catch-22.

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Monday, March 03, 2014

Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married (by Marian Keyes)

And here is the third and final review in the category of of "books I finished in airports and on planes this weekend." I enjoyed this book for the most part, although there are small moments of fatphobia and homophobia that did not sit well with me. (The fat character is a whopping "200 pounds" and is described numerous times as "lumbering" from one place to another, and supposedly shakes talcum powder on her thighs in the office? But, she does end up happy and in love with a younger guy, so there's that I guess.)

That bit aside, the characters are likeable, and it's got Keyes's typical meatiness to it with its discussions of family dysfunction, alcoholism, and depression, which I always appreciate in her work. The central romance is quite delightful. I love the character of Karen, who is a bit of a fun villain. Lucy's relationship with Gus is realistically heartbreaking. And Daniel is swoon-worthy.

My biggest issue was actually the relationship between Lucy and her mother. It was very painful and handled well, except for the ending. I'll spoiler tag (avert your eyes, feed readers): I really needed that cathartic moment of Lucy realizing just how unfair and horrible she was to her mother throughout the whole book. It was really dramatic, with her wishing her mother dead and failing completely to appreciate her. And the end was like "well, we're working on our relationship." I didn't expect things to tie up neatly or all of Lucy's feelings to be resolved, but there absolutely needed to be a scene of Lucy having that lightbulb moment.

Anyway, I'm not sure I'll hang onto this one as a reread, for the reasons mentioned above, but I did enjoy reading it this time!


Sunday, March 02, 2014

Here I Go Again (by Jen Lancaster)

Another fast and fun book read in an airport. (This was #2 out of three of my airplane reads this weekend.) The premise of this is that a high school mean girl realizes that she has terrible karma thanks to high school, then time travels back in time and has a chance to do it all over again, with unforeseen results and lots of character development. (She reminded me strongly of Darcy in the Something Borrowed/Something Blue books by Emily Giffin.)

I thought this was really well crafted, though I had some minor nitpicks with the ending. But it was a satisfying fluffy read. Was this my first Jen Lancaster book? I think it may have been, though I've been hearing good things about her for years. I'll be very curious what y'all romcom* fans think of this book, or Lancaster in general.

*I made myself a "romcom" tag because I can't quite handle the term "chicklit." But you can call it that if you want and I'll still love you.