The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

December 19, 2014 2014, ARC, reviews 12

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel FaberThe Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Published by Crown Publishing Group on October 28th 2014
Source: Publisher
Pages: 512
Buy From IndieBoundGoodreads

 

After years preaching his faith on Earth, Peter Leigh is hired to join the ranks of a strange corporation, based on a newly discovered planet called Oasis, and serve as the Christian pastor to the native population. The mission forces Peter to leave behind his wife Bea, who grows increasingly distant as life on Earth becomes unstable and Peter loses himself among the Oasans.

The Book of Strange New Things starts with a farewell drive filled with uncertain conversations and fumbling passion that wonderfully establishes the novel’s central relationship. The uncertainty builds throughout the early part of the novel, as Peter’s journey to and initial exploration of Oasis reveals more details about both the company that hired him and the population he is intended to serve.

Unfortunately, the intensity begins to wear thin as The Book of Strange New Things pushes on. While I certainly understand the need to establish a clear vision of the planet Oasis, readers are constantly trapped in a repetitive back and forth between Peter’s life among the Oasans and time on the corporation’s compound, dotted with epistolary exchanges with Bea. Though these exchanges become highlights, as the couple’s relationship is the true heart of the novel, the cycle soon feels like a chore propelled only by the potential reward of piecing together unanswered questions. It’s almost as if Faber expects our anticipation to stand in for pacing and plotting through nearly two-thirds of the book.

The endpoint of that anticipation is where The Book of Strange New Things finally fell apart for me. Perhaps it was the early buzz or the rave reviews, but I held on through the drudgery of the book’s middle in hopes I would be challenged and faced with big questions, much as I was with Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. Though the Oasans’ reason for seeking Christianity is an interesting surprise, I found almost everything else revealed by the novel’s end to be predictable, the questions posed uninspiring and those ignored off-putting*. While the combination of sci-fi and literary fiction is a refreshing one, I think it has unfairly encouraged many to forgive the novel’s weaknesses and praise ideas that might otherwise fall flat.

 

*I’m being intentionally vague in hopes of avoiding spoilers for those who haven’t yet read, but I’d be interested in discussing further (with spoiler warnings) in the comments with those of you who have.

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Best Nonfiction of 2014

December 18, 2014 2014, discussion, lists, nonfiction, women in nonfiction 20

Best Nonfiction 2014

I have to give a ton of credit to anyone able to gather all their yearly favorites into a single  list. I’m definitely not one of those people. I’ve already shared my favorite book club picks, sleeper hits and fiction of 2014, so that leaves us with the nonfiction goodness.

 

Liar, Temptress Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

The interwoven histories of four fierce ladies who left their mark on both sides of the Civil War.

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

A powerful and convincing investigation into the myths surrounding immunity.

The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt by David Giffels

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

Both funny and heartbreaking, Giffels’ essays are a beautiful love letter to the forgotten cities of the American Rust Belt.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

An absolutely essential read focused on re-framing the abortion debate and the language around it.

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking)  by Christian Rudder

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

Fascinating, funny and thought-provoking, Rudder shares the data behind our secret internet lives.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

Stevenson’s personal journey through the injustices of the American justice system is both timely and necessary reading.

 

What nonfiction titles stood out for you this year?

 

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Read This, Watch That: Tenth of December and Black Mirror

December 17, 2014 2014, mini reviews, reviews, tv and movies 11

tenth of dec black mirror

This pairing was actually recommended in a recent episode of the Books on the Nightstand podcast. In a great twist of fate, I placed a library hold on Tenth of December the day before listening to the episode and ended up binge watching the show while I read. It was perfection.

Tenth of December by George Saunders

Remember when short stories weren’t my thing? I think I was just reading the wrong short stories. I’ve discovered through Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, Simon Rich’s Spoiled Brats and now George Saunders that the format is perfect for dark humor and satire. The raves you’ve heard about Tenth of December? They’re all spot on. So much of what I loved about Spoiled Brats is echoed in this collection, but twisted to critique money, morality and human connection in a society just one tick off our own. My favorite story follows a father who wins the lottery and immediately buys a set of Semplica Girls—women from third-world countries paid to act as lawn ornaments—in order to keep up with the wealthy families in his children’s classrooms. Saunders also demonstrates his ability to write a perfectly passive aggressive mass e-mail (re: quality control) from a supervisor that’s nearly impossible not to giggle through.

Black Mirror (Channel 4/Available on Netflix)

Black Mirror is old news for those of you in the UK, but it just hit Netflix in the US so we’re jumping on the bandwagon. The show’s two seasons are both just three episodes long, with a completely different cast and storyline each episode, and focus on the “dark side of technology”. Are we seeing the short story connection? It’s billed as sci-fi, but in many episodes feels more like a hyper-advanced version of our own society, which is very similar to the settings created by George Saunders in Tenth of December. The trailer below combines elements from the first three episodes and gives a good overview of the show (slightly NSFW, watch out for the swears!).

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No Longer a Library Slacker

December 16, 2014 2014 50

Library

What a difference a year makes! In January, I shared my status as a library book slacker. At that point, I hadn’t checked out a book from the library in years because I was so bad at returning them on time. YEARS. But thanks to some encouragement in the comments, mostly around using the online hold system, I took the leap a few months later.

Since then, I’ve been doing weekly trips and have definitely found it easier to get books back on time if I have another waiting on hold. I guess I need some bookish encouragement. It hasn’t been too crazy, but the hold lists have certainly started to grow and I’m just waiting for the dreaded day when a whole batch comes in at once.

Even though only a small percentage of the books I read this year came from the library, I’m aiming to change that for 2015. I’ve gone through some of the lists I made in Edelweiss and requested that my library order them, so hopefully I can pick them up that way. Here’s to libraries in the New Year!

Are you a reformed library slacker? Any more professional library tips to share?

 

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It’s Monday December 14th, What Are You Reading?

December 15, 2014 2014, it's monday, what are you reading? 22

monday

This will be a quick one, since yesterday hit me with a sudden cold (flu?) that’s left me feeling like I can’t even hold up my head. After finishing up Bastard Out of Carolina late last week, I felt a little caught by the Paradox of Choice. I actually spent over twenty minutes in front of my bookshelves and couldn’t narrow myself down to a single book. Thankfully, my library holds came in and Tenth of December sounded perfect. Short stories are just what I need to balance the bit of slumpiness I’m feeling through the middle of The Book of Strange New Things. I was totally drawn in at the beginning, but I feel like it’s been dragging for about a hundred pages now…like I’m just waiting for something to happen. Here’s hoping it’s worth it in the end.

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

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Best Books of 2014

December 11, 2014 2014, discussion, lists 23

Best Books of 2014

 

The “best of” season is in full swing and I can’t resist the opportunity to share my opinion. Last  week, I listed 2014’s Best Books You Might Have Missed and this week I’m turning to favorite fiction. Since I’ve already gushed about these novels in their respective reviews, I’m highlighting some of my favorite lines in hopes you’ll pick them up if you haven’t already.

 

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

“There’s only so long you can feel sorry for a person before you come to feel that their affliction is an act of malice committed by them against you.”

 

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

“It is often women who pay the price for what men want.”

 

Neverhome by Laird Hunt

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

“I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic.”

 

Euphoria by Lily King

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

“I was raised on Science as other people are raised on God, or gods, or the crocodile.”

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

“The revelation of privacy: she can walk down the street and absolutely no one knows who she is. It’s possible that no one who didn’t grow up in a small place can understand how beautiful this is, how the anonymity of city life feels like freedom.”

 

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

“You expect to love your children; it brings a different kind of joy to realize you admire them.”

 

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

“Without the bonds of school, they pour out of doors, unable to be constrained. The classroom is a coffin and the bedroom is a coffin and even their own bodies are coffins and they must escape.”

 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

“She buried her nose in Lydia’s hair and made silent promises. Never to tell her to sit up straight, to find a husband, to keep a house. Never to suggest that there were jobs or lives or worlds not meant for her; never to let her hear doctor and think only man.”

 

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

“She signed away the right to self-destruct years ago. The fine print on the birth certificate, her friends call it.”

 

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Review | Goodreads | IndieBound

“Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.”

 

Last year’s favorites: The Best Books (and Blogger Voices) of 2013

 

Do  we share any favorites? What was the best you read this year?

 

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