Books for you to read

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What this site has for you

Here, brief mentions for books I enjoyed reading, books I hope you will enjoy, too.

I will usually start an entry with the author's name, on the theory that the books of people who write one good book are often all quite good. After the author's name, I will probably mention specific titles.

(I try to say some useful things about "what is a good book?" at the bottom of the page.)


Most recent additions

JB Ballard, Empire of the Sun. Similar to the fabulous Spielberg movie of the same name, but different. (Same story… and you need to know that the book is autobiographical. Ballard lived through Shanghai under Japanese occupation, in a prison camp, aged 12-15.)

I read Empire of the Sun during the Covid lockdown. Very suitable context. Also, I read it on daily walk… half of which was across a disused airfield important in WW II.

Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy. By 2040, if you do a university module on dystopian novels, you will read Brave New World, 1984… and Hunger Games. You heard it here first!

Reader Bullard The Camels Must Go. Yes, colonialism has a lot to answer for. But not every colonial administrator was an evil person. Read this book, to broaden your grasp of what it was all about. It also helped me to see the way "government" works more clearly. I'd not really grasped that "government" is much more than just what the politicians get up to. Perhaps more important are the people who administer the things governments do.

TE Lawrence Revolt In The Desert: The "easy" version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which is the book behind Lawrence of Arabia. Please give it a try. If you aren't hooked by the extraordinary person that emerges, I will be surprised. I now have many TE Lawrence books… and rarely fail to find something amusing within two pages of any place in any of his books. As a (rather poor) youngster, he decided he wanted to see France. So one summer, on less than $5 per day, he rode his bike from the north to the south and back again.

Books to read…

Free on an Android or Kobo near you…

(And yes, maybe even also on the other eReader which is winning the brand awareness wars, and will soon crush all the competition… and reason to innovate… unless consumers… like you are careful. Before you buy "Kleenex", check out some of the brands of facial tissue… I mean other eReaders. My early Kobo was very satisfactory until it Just Stopped Working after many years, like all of these wretched things go, Kindle not excepted. (Think about where the Kobo got its name, by the way. It isn't a random name.)

ANYWAY… to the free books…

If you go along to http://www.gutenberg.org/ you will find many, many, many free books. For the Kobo, download the ePub format. For FBReader (Android and Windows, and probably others), ePub is good, and others are possible.

Now. The "downside" is that gutenberg.org free books are all "old" books. (This page recommends a mix of old and new.) Not everyone enjoys "the classics". I would have put myself in that camp, despite trying to "raise my game", read a "good" book once in a while. But I am finally beginning to find books that are old enough to be available for free (out of copyright), and a book I want to read. E.g….

Kipling, Rudyard's Plain Tales From The Hills, a collection of short stories about the English when they were in India as imperialists. The Larger Issues are not taken up. But the stories are delightful, if you keep yourself from getting angry about attitudes in people who are long gone, and won't be affected by your anger. Kipling frequently drops lovely gems into his writing, such as….

"(he) dowered her with all of the virtues in the Bible, and most of those in Shakespeare."

He also observes the doings of men and women with a pretty shrewd eye. But that's a story for another time.

Babbage, Charles If you have a touch of the obsessive yourself, you may be able to make it through Babbage's On the Economy of Manufacture. Read it to see what I mean. If you do, you may come away with a whole new understanding of this towering intellect, a man many credit with having the idea of a computer before society had the technology to make it happen. A man who broke a cipher system which was thought unbreakable for over 300 years… but then didn't say how he'd done it. In the Economy of Manufacture, you will learn details of How Things Were Done around 1850. Marvel too, as you read, at the incredible industry Babbage must have employed just to gather in all of the material in his book, unless he was a complete charlatan and just made it up as he went along!

Dark Books

The books in this section are "good" books, I think. But they aren't exactly "happy" books.

Seymour, Gerald He was a TV journalist, often covering stories in Northern Ireland when things were hellish there. He wrote Harry's Game as a result. Fiction… but things that "might have happened", in the world of the Northern Ireland disorder.

This is the author who got my fingers to the keyboard for you. He has written MANY good books, but it was "The Callaborator" which got me down to work for you. It is a story of crime families in Naples, and of individuals caught up in the state's failure to stay on top of criminals. The development of characters, the quality of the English used, the twists and turns in the plot… all superb. While "dark", there is little in the book that is explicitly gruesome. His books are (all?) stories of individuals, caught up in bigger stories, stories familiar to us from newspapers and other news media reports. All fiction, all things which might have happened. All slightly "bigger than life", but simply to make his picture of "life" easier to perceive. (No fantasy, nothing surreal.)

Non-fiction, stories of How We Got To Where We Are

I confess: I am not a very "academic" person. But even as such, I have had great pleasure from reading "popular" non-fiction material.

Zusak, Markus _The Book Thief_ (not typical of what I mean by non-fiction, but this belongs here.) Superb. Not only in the Anne Frank vein, but also for its understanding of children, and for the glorious writing. Very, very odd writing… but not Joyce/ Ulysses odd (thank heavens), but, I would wager, unlike anything you've ever read before. But still "easy" to read… a page turner. Don't be daunted by its bulk! If you've seen the movie, still read the book. If you've read the book, don't be afraid to watch the movie… it is equally superb, and equally "different". A death late in the film haunts me still, but not because it was Hollywood gory.

Uglow, Jenny wrote _Lunar Men_ about five friends who lived in England, late 1700s. Ben Franklin enjoyed his acquaintance with them. And they were key players in the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution… but Uglow tells their story in a way that my poor burdened history teacher never achieve. (On the strength of that, I read her _Nature's Engraver_, and was similarly thrilled.)

Winchester, Simon should need no introduction. If you haven't come across him, give Map That Changed The World a try.

Crime

Wilson, Robert, very clever "plan" to the writing in _A Small Death in Lisbon_ It is two, linked and overlapping stories… told in alternation. One over, what? 10 days' span, the other over many decades.

Pears, Iain, _Death and Restoration_ Rome. Modern times. Some "da Vinci-esque" elements, without getting silly. "Miss Marple"-like eschewment of gratuitous gore and terror.

Dexter, Colin, the Morse series. Maybe same _The Remorseful Day_ for a while… it is the last in the series, but it is the one I wanted to share two snippets from…

Who knew? "Who gives a dam?" should be spelt that way, not "… damn". A "dam" was a small coin used in India, worth almost nothing. And, from same novel… did you ever notice that "eleven plus two" is an anagram of "twelve plus one"?.. and that both phrases equal the same total?! (Dexter credits Gleave, _A Classical Education_ with that. Don't you love books that throw up all sorts of "useless" odds and ends along the way of your reading journey?

Fantasy/ Sci Fi

Card, Orson Scott I would rather not have put him under that heading, but I had to put him somewhere. Yes, his books (usually) have a Sci Fi element. But he isn't the usual sort. His stories always amaze me for the exposition of What Makes People (and relationships) Tick.

Start with Ender's Game… yes, the book behind the 2013 movie with Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, and Harrison Ford. Or, for less Sci Fi, more fantasy: Seventh Son. Both are the first in serieses (is that a word?), and in both cases, you will probably enjoy the series more if you start at the beginning.

I find the following interesting: If I ask a non=Sci Fi person if they have heard of Card, they almost always say no. And yet, I've never asked a Sci Fi person the same question without getting a very positive response. Remember: His books are not "your ordinary" Sci Fi. Or start with Enchantment, which has no SciFi… but a lot of Fantasy. Wait 'til you hear about Baba Yaga's toy boy!

Card, Orson Scott Pathfinder… I'd give this 5/5 even though I realize it isn't for everyone. But I would recommend that you struggle through it anyway, if it seems a struggle to you. If you are at all interested in challenging your understanding of several branches of science, or if you like the challenge of spotting ideas parallel to those in other books…. Pathfinder will give you rewards in both departments.

And while not for everyone, for some of us, it is a great read! And I would recommend that schools put it on reading lists of the sort where the kids chose from a menu. It would need a note saying that it may appeal more to geeks than to gentles… I'd be interested to know how it goes down with non-geeks. Can it help them get an idea of what they are missing? But it certainly isn't a book to make a whole class read. It would be great supplementary reading for first year university physics students!

For people preparing for academic exams in science might consider reading it as a way to look anew at, in particular, quatum physics. But there is some good biology thrown in as well… terra-forming, exobiology, etc. There are even some history "lessons". (How governments rise and fall, and monarchy vs "socialist democratic repulic".)

Many explorations of time travel paradoxes… including, unless I am mistaken, a new idea (!)… I don't want to spoil it, but if you've read the book, maybe this hint will do: Rigg's sister's "rushing". The details of what is going on there are, to me anyway, interesting… and, I think, not previously explored by writers.

If you Don't Like thinking about "how things work", or reading expositions of other people's efforts, maybe this book will be good exercise for you, or maybe it will be too much to bear. But I thoroughly enjoyed trying to get my brain around some of the ideas explored.

I wonder what people younger than 15 will think of the "how to win friends and influence people" elements of the book. There ARE places where Card seems to me to come perilously close to the "Mentoria" genre…. Victorian books to "improve" children… and yet, somewhat more than 15, I found some of the lessons he was putting forward food for thought… lessons about interpersonal relations, and lessons for politicians.

There's a wonderful robot… a bit like C3-PeeOh from Star Wars… or Marvin (Hitchhikers)… or Sir Humphrey (no robot… "Yes, Minister")… Spock (Star Trek)… and even a dash of HAL (2001).

Like so many other things that seem to be inspired by earlier ideas, Card has made his version of the companion robot entirely his own, melding interesting elements of the pre-cursors. The possible link to HAL is a nice example. Again, I hope I won't say too much… but how THIS "HAL" tries to take over is very neat.

There are bits of the Hunger Games world in the story.

Just when you fear you can't take another sentence of obsessive "how does it work" discussion, there will be a moment of witty banter to blow the cobwebs away.

There are bits concerning the mystery of memory.

I am very much looking forward to reading the other two (so far!) books in the series. I would have no hesitation in putting it on a school reading list as a book "worth" reading which might, for some, even be no chore to read. (Longish Pathfinder review ends here.)


And a "good book" is…?

What prompts me to recommend a book to you? One or more of the following virtues…

  • I learned something… not necessarily "academic"… from the book.
  • Reading it gave me a "life experience". I've never lived in Australia, but from a book I have "memories" of an Australian life.
  • The use of English in the book is admirable. The words used, the construction of the sentences. Etc. Sadly, not much of that seems to have rubbed off on my writing… but I honestly feel that some of it has. (What would my writing be like without my reading? Scary thought!)
  • I had fun reading the book! Or I found it interesting. Now… both of those are highly personal. It annoys me intensely when a teacher starts a lesson by telling the pupils that what is to come "is interesting". I think such teachers mean that they, personally, find the subject matter interesting. I hope that whatever made a book fun or interesting to me will trigger the same response in you.

Of course, few books score highly on all of these criteria. A book may be a lot of fun, but otherwise a complete waste of time… or even "scoring" "negative points" on some criteria. But if it is enough fun, I will still recommend it.

Or a book may be a little fun, a little educational and not too bad on any other criteria, I may recommend it on "accumulated points".

I hope you enjoy any books you try.

Do you know about Bookmooch? There's a .com and a .co.uk. A great way to get books for the cost of postage. And you don't even have to pay anyone anything! Go to one of the sites to see how that works. Quite a clever model. I've been using it for a while (at 8/16) and intend to continue doing so… although sometimes it is hard to find a book you want. But maybe you will have better luck. Also, unless I am missing something, there is a frustration. You ask "Is anyone offering "The Hobbit", and you get a list… but then you have to work through it to find someone with the book on offer, who is also willing to send it to where you live. Sigh.

Another great site for readers: Goodreads.com

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