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Fiction books read in 2007 and beyond

I offer you my first past-year booklist for fiction (1). I know these are just capsule summary-reviews, but I want to keep track of what I’ve read, lest I fall back into the bad habit of forgetting.

I’ve limited this entry to non-graphical works (2). Books are sorted alphabetically by author, then publication date. Because it is a damn long list, I’ve added a lightbulb icon πŸ’‘ to ones I highly recommend. I’ve also made a separate section for books I didn’t finish.

  1. ~Ha ha ha~. I started this entry back in January. I’ve also slipped in items I read in 2006 (breathe in) and 2005 (sigh, breathe out), since I’ve got both sticky and electronic notes dating back that far. Let this be a lesson to me to avoid writing up something that covers multiple items over a multiple year period. Sheez.
  2. I’ll cover comics, including manga, in separate entries.

Brockmeier, Kevin. The Brief History of the Dead. I like Brockmeier’s description of the afterlife, integrating it with the living. An engaging yet melancholic adventure; makes me curious about his other works.

Carr, J.L. A Month in the Country. A pleasantly quiet story of a painter restoring artwork in the English countryside.

Corder, Zizou. Lionboy. I like the concept of a half-British, half-African boy (mixed cultural identities can be both educational and adventurous!) on a quest to find the cause (and cure, he hopes) of an ever-expanding sickness. With the help of felines. I would’ve enjoyed it except for what I call the Nancy Drew Syndrome, a main character whose skills and personality are so good, so perfect, as to be implausible. It detracts from an otherwise entertaining story and atmosphere.

πŸ’‘ Gaarder, Jostein. Sophie’s World. I’ve never taken a class in philosophy. This book provided an illuminating history of philosophy wrapped around an oddly fantastic tale. Some might pooh-pooh the technique, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

πŸ’‘ Gaiman, Neil. Coraline. A delightfully creepy story of girl who must enter a sinister realm to rescue her family. With the help of a cat, of course! One of my favorite lines: “When you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.”

πŸ’‘ Gaiman, Neil. American Gods. Why do I like Gaiman’s writing? Is it because he approaches mythology, culture and religion with curiosity and wonder without caving in to dogma? Is it because he treats his characters with humor and compassion, even amidst cruelty and misery? Is it because, from lecturing gods to thrilling sex scenes, the stories are involving, if not fun to watch unfold? Yes, all of the above.

πŸ’‘ Gibson, William. Pattern Recognition. It took me a million years (okay, over a dozen) to finish reading Neuromancer. I couldn’t immerse myself in Gibson’s cyberspace world —mainly due to my inability to grok the idioms and dialect in that book. (Ironic, considering my career.) Ah, but this book. It feels right, it sounds real, and is much more readable than his earlier works: with credible high technology (so similar to what I deal with!), yet with enough weirdness and mystery to make for swell science fiction. The plot: viral Internet videos. The protagonist: a woman with a severe allergy to commercialism (now that’s synesthesia gone wild!) who investigates the source of the videos.

Gibson, William. Spook Country. This takes place in the same world as as Pattern Recognition, with one, maybe two of the same characters. It’s an intriguing page-turner, populated with spooks (agents) from several divergent backgrounds. The novel’s ambience is saturated with both the ennui of modern life and the paranoia of war, where a former musician-now-journalist must figure out: What’s in that container? Where is it? What are the shady deals concerning it?

Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha. Historical fictions pose many restrictions on authors, and I feel it’s often hard for them to successfully pull off either credible characters or convincingly absorbing environments. This novel gratifies me in both areas.

Gorodischer, Angélica. Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was. Ursula K. Le Guin’s translation read like an intricate Russian fantasy. Sadly, it’s too opaque for my little brain, since I didn’t (couldn’t?) become immersed in the fictional history of the empire. (As an aside, it does remind me of the fictional academic writing of fellow Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges.)

πŸ’‘ Jones, Diana Wynne. Dark Lord of Derkholm. In this fun novel of wizardry and high-stress business (of creating an amusement park for other-world tourists, ha!), Jones evokes strong empathy for both Derk, a down-trodden middle-aged man, and his teenaged son, Blade. In fact, all of the characters have remarkable, yet understandable personalities. This book epitomizes Jones’s skill at showing depth existing within seemingly villainous characters —yet astutely portraying real evil. Jones’s application of magic in a biotechnological manner is also clever and nifty.

Jones, Diana Wynne. The Year of the Griffin. Derk’s family from Dark Lord of Derkholm is huge. But this novel isn’t really a sequel; it’s a side story about Derk’s griffin daughter Elda who goes off to sorcery college. Yes, the phrase “antics ensue” applies here, but it’s still a good read.

Kessler, Brad. Birds in Fall. Another quiet novel, where all dialogue is written without punctuation. (Which sounds odd, but is actually quite easy to follow.) As seen by the title, birds are the motif: migration, flying, falling, airplanes, etc. An interesting story about mourning (e.g., the Kingfisher myth features prominently after one of a pair of ornithologists dies).

Lowry, Lois. The Giver (audiobook). A utopia where everyone has a perfect home, a perfect career, a perfect community. But someone has to keep track of history, and all knowledge which is not-perfect: the Giver. An exciting tale where we see the tiny cracks and smears form in the otherwise shiny surface of an ideal society.

McAvoy, R.A. Tea with the Black Dragon (reread). A good story from the perspectives of a middle-aged woman and an ancient dragon who renounced his original form for a human body. There are references to the concrete bleakness of Sunnyvale (specific parts, like Mathilda near Highway 101), which have remained unchanged since this book was written back in the early 1980s!

πŸ’‘ Miéville, China. Un Lun Dun. This novel beautifully turns the concept of prophecy on its head, where the sidekick becomes the protagonist. Exemplary scenery as well, going between modern London, and its weird-alternate, Un Lun Dun.

Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas. Multiple narratives from vastly different voices and different cultures, spiraling from the past to the far future, and back again. It’s a creative technique, which succeeded for me, as a kind of the History of the World.

Moore, Christopher. Fluke, or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings. I know it’s a mere comparision of two books, but Moore succeeds for me where Robbins stumbles with mainstream wacky fiction. For some children, horses become the animal obsession; I went through such a phase, but much more briefly. For me, it was cetaceans. So how could I resist a story which starts with a humpback flashing “Bite Me” on its flukes? πŸ˜‰

πŸ’‘ Moore, Jeffrey. The Memory Artists. The viewpoints shift between a man overwhelmed with synesthesia, his mother succumbing to Alzheimer’s, an ambitious neuropsychologist, and several other ragtag individuals. All of them seek to comprehend or control aspects of their own or others’ memories. Good stuff!

Murakami, Haruki. A Wild Sheep Chase. A somewhat offbeat hunt for a sheep with a black spot in its fur, in the shape of a star. It was one of Murakami’s first successes, but for me it wasn’t one of his best (i.e., sounded quirky, but ends up feeling just okay).

Murakami, Haruki. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (reread). This book contains one of the most (believably) competent characters of all time, the Professor’s Daughter. The story itself has two sides: an unchanging fantasy land filled with unicorn skulls, and the dreary life of a human calculator (a “number launderer”). I’ve always been confused by the ending, and after reading it again last year I still don’t comprehend it. (I understand the philosophical, if not intellectual implications…but, strangely, not the literal ones!) But it’s still fun to read about Japanese monsters, old sewer systems, mad science, and film noir.

Murakami, Haruki. Sputnik Sweetheart. A story of two women: one with a frozen heart and (literally) snow white hair, and a younger, livelier one (nearly her opposite) who takes an interest in the former. Rather than dreary, the melancholic situation is explored with compassion and audacity.

Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. I find the story of the slow-witted (and illiterate), unagi-loving man endearing. The story about the teenaged boy Kafka trying to find his past is also interesting —except for an element in this book which set off my Revulso-Meter: how could incest be seen as romantic or enriching?

πŸ’‘ Murakami, Haruki. After Dark. Murakami’s latest novel, focusing on several late-night denizens: a somnolent model, a jaded student, a butch love hotel manager, and an abused prostitute. Almost but not quite as good as A Wind-up Bird Chronicle, which currently stands as my favorite work by Murakami.

πŸ’‘ Nix, Garth. The Abhorsen trilogy, consisting of Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen. A really cool series about necromancers and clairvoyants, and their attempts to maintain balance in the Old Kingdom. Rather than wielding wands or staffs, the necromancers ring bells to control their powers and the (un)dead. According to his website, Nix plans on releasing another two novels in the same world, Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen (in 2010 or 2011) and another occurring a few years after Abhorsen (in 2011 or 2012).

Park, Paul. A Princess of Roumania. The first novel in a fascinating parallel world series, where three teenagers come to learn more about themselves and the world(s) around them. Which identity is real? Which one is redesigned? Who should they trust? It is a complex environment and set of personalities, which I find both conscientiously detailed yet confusing to maneuver through.

Pessl, Marisha. Special Topics in Calamity Physics. An eerie tale of a teacher who takes under her wing a small group of high schoolers. Does she care, or is she simply being manipulative? While bright, each of the students suffer from their own form of self-absorption. Literary references abound to tie the plot together, sometimes well integrated, sometimes not.

πŸ’‘ Piercy, Marge. He, She and It, a.k.a., Body of Glass, outside of the US. Two stories superbly presented and interwoven: first of a young Jewish woman and a golem in Prague during the 1600s; the second of another Jewish woman in the future, torn between a broken marriage, a robot, corporate tyranny, and the struggle of a small, self-sufficient community. This novel is an interesting contrast to Piercy’s earlier Woman on the Edge of Time. Both dealt with oppressive societies vs. hard-working idealists, but the older book was more bleak, and often relentlessly distressing. Still, I highly recommend both.

Pullman, Philip. Lyra’s Oxford. A 50-odd page story, taking place a few years after the His Dark Materials trilogy. A thoughtful piece where Lyra learns more about her home and herself.

Robbins, Tom. Villa Incognito. An odd tale about war, the Tanuki, and his descendants. It could’ve been a better book, because the author seems to try too hard to be outré or witty; the tone ends up overexcited, with moments of sexiness or toilet humor thrown in for, I dunno, good measure.

πŸ’‘ Rosenbaum, Benjamin. Other Cities. A marvelous collection of short-short stories about cities: their history, their inhabitants, their leaders, their personalities.

Russell, Mary Doria. The Sparrow. A Jesuit who suffers horrific experiences at the hand of aliens wonders how God could exist. Ah, so you’d think that agnosticism or atheism would be discussed or investigated, hunh? Nope, not AFAICT. Rather than having an interesting theosophical discussion, it felt intellectually insulting. (Nearly as bad as The Life of Pi) Go read Pullman instead.

Seigel, Andrea. To Feel Stuff. Erf, I cannot remember much about this novel, except that it’s a young college student suffering an odd, terminal disease. And that I enjoyed its dreary atmosphere, evocative of old university towns. Might need to reread.

Stewart, Sean. Mockingbird. A modern novel steeped in voodoo mythology. The story just fell flat for me; alas, a case of high expectations wrecked by disappointing (IMO) plot.

πŸ’‘ Swann, Leonie. Three Bags Full, a.k.a, Glenkill. Everyone has genre preferences and aversions. I don’t like reading mysteries. Yawn. But this was an exception. It has a superb mix of confusion, puzzles and wackiness. Especially since sheep are the main characters, trying to figure out the death of their beloved shepherd.

Weeks, Sarah. So B. It. An involving story about the daughter of a retarded woman learning about her family’s past, while coping with the present. Now I want to check out Week’s other novel, Jumping the Scratch.

Wyndham, John. The Chrysalids (audiobook). Post-apocalyptic future, where “normal” humans, ruled by religious zealotry, cull out those with mutations. It was a compelling story to listen to during a roadtrip; I might read the original 1955 novel.

πŸ’‘ Yoshimoto, Banana. Kitchen. I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed Yoshimoto’s first (this one) and latest works (Hardboiled and Hard Luck) the most. Odd personalities, cooking and death, and a touch of magical realism, which makes for a bold yet meditative combination.

Yoshimoto, Banana. Asleep. Three spellbinding stories involving sleepwalking, comas, ghosts in dreams and narcolepsy.

Yoshimoto, Banana. N.P.. Hrm, this book also tripped my Revulso-Meter. πŸ™ It’s also somewhat of a literary mystery, but unfortunately it doesn’t quash my dislike for mysteries.

Yoshimoto, Banana. Lizard. An interesting collection of stories spanning the broad range of life’s rites of passage and spiritual turning points.

πŸ’‘ Yoshimoto, Banana. Hardboiled and Hard Luck. Lovers, death and food. Sad and contemplative. Stories definitely worth reading!


Corder, Zizou. The remaining two books of the Lionboy trilogy, The Chase and The Truth. See above regarding Corder’s first book which I read completely.

Funke, Cornelia. Inkheart. I hope to finish this fantasy series, as I do enjoy Elinor and Meggie’s dispositions. What made me halt in the middle of this first book, was the sudden feeling of “Oh no. I know this is a series, but will this first book leave me with a heavy, ungratified feeling, instead of eager anticipation?”

Hafiz. The Gift, translation by Daniel Ladinsky. It felt unauthentic, like I was reading some 1990s New Age poetry. To be a better test, I’d like to read an older English translation. If the poems read the same way, then I’ll know better, and give Ladinsky’s translations (currently the only ones in print) another try. Update (23 Dec 2009): It took me a while to realize that this was no translation, but just a collection of poems by Ladinsky which were inspired by Hafiz. No wonder I was confused with the misleading title.

Harris, Joanne. Jigs and Reels. I stopped reading this due to No Particular Reason (NPR), with no strong feelings about it, other than having other more interesting or engaging books to read at the time.

Horsley, Kate. Black Elk in Paris. I lost interest in reading about the tragedy of an eccentric in Victorian Paris.

Klinkenborg, Verlyn. Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Tortoise. What I thought would be a quirky tale from the eyes of a tortoise just seemed dull.

Kurimoto, Kaoru. The Guin Saga (book 1): the Leopard Mask. Just couldn’t get into what seemed like an infuriatingly hackneyed fairy tale.

Mahfouz, Naguib. Arabian Nights and Days. NPR.

Murakami, Haruki. The Elephant Vanishes: Stories. The stories here felt too abrupt, too disturbing to be satisfying. Makes me think that Murakami excels more at longer works.

Smiley, Jane. Moo. NPR.

von Schlegell, Mark. Venusia: A True Story. Too over the top surreal for me. (Somewhat disappointing since I do enjoy many surreal things!)

Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies. The premise sounds fantastic: a world where at adolescence a person is surgically altered to become beautiful…as a form of societal conformation and control. What if that person refuses? Sadly, I couldn’t handle the narration, which felt…hm, simple-minded? True, the principal character is supposed to be rather callow, but the voice didn’t feel as convincing as, say, Charlie Gordon’s voice in Flowers for Algernon. P’raps I’ll check out his other fiction (a friend has recommended Peeps).

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