Multiple letters read, 2020 retrospective

T’was the night after new years eve, and the only sound through the house was the clickityclack of a keyboard typing out the annual “what I’ve read this year” post. As usual, the printed and digital matter I’ve read or abandoned, in a sub-category chronology.

Printed

Sofia Åkerman: Zebraflickan. Autobiographical about Sofia who’s been suffering from eating disorders & depression, and her experience of Swedish psychiatric care. Harsch descriptions of suicide attempts and what’s going on in your head as you try hide the extent of your illness – puking in hidden containers and whatnot.

Wille Sundqvist & Bengt Gustafsson: Träsvarvning enligt skärmetoden. The book to get if you’re into turning wood. I’m still not sure what the main difference is between scrubbing and cutting – it seems to be difference of degree rather than principle – but the book has a lot of info on how to think when turning.

Hilary Mantel: The Mirror and the light. The last book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, and the language is just as vibrant and gripping as the previous books. Tells the bookend of Thomas Cromwells’ life, and I even though I know that parts of the story are fabricated — all of the internal monologue for a start — it paints a believable portrait.

Maria Ganci: Familjebaserad behandling. A brief introduction to family based theraphy targeting families where the kid has an eating disorder. Practical, but a bit lacking in inspiration beyond “talk to the therapist.”

Johanna Bäckström Lerneby: Familjen. A report on the Ali Khan family in Angered – big traditional family or criminal clan, take your pick. Fascinating read, especially since the story is evolving in real-time – with the Khan lawyer just today being written about because some DA’s want him disbarred.

Allie Brosh: Solutions and other problems. A thick follow–up on the brilliant Hyperbole and a half and a result of six years of introspection, the cartoons get a more prominent role and carry a bit more of the load than previously. It’s a melancholy and sad book, but since it doesn’t rule out the possibility of random happiness there’s a small ray of hope for us all.

Madeline Miller: Kirke. A book chronicling the life of Kirke, daughter of Perse and Helios, in a story parallell to the one in the Illiad. Entertaining enough read, and Millers take on Odysseus is far from the hagiography we’re used to.

Johan Croneman: Jag är olycklig här. An autobiographical account of a famous-in-Sweden cultural critic. Alcoholism, despair and brushes with death, told in spread-long chapters, interspersed with poetry.

Epub / PDF / etc

Stephen Hawking: Brief answers to the big questions. Even though this is the dumbed down version of his thoughts, some of it still flew well over my head. The topics of the essays have been covered before – both by him as well as others – but since he was such a part of the zeitgeist it’s a worthwhile read.

Albert Camus: The stranger. Hit home more than I’d like – the arbitrary nature of human values and judgements resonates with me, and Meursaults bafflement at how others react and how he thinks they ought to is gut-wrenching.

James S. A. Corey: Leviathan Wakes | Calibans War | Abbadons Gate | Cobola Burn | Nemesis Games | Babylons Ashes | Persepolis Rising | Tiamats Wrath. Having binged the Expanse TV-series I figured I’d get out ahead of the show and read the books. Well enough written and each book only takes two days to read – And since I’m a sucker for space opera this was up my alley. The class struggles and realpolitik make for an interesting narrative, reminding me of C. J. Cherryh and Downbelow station.

China Miéville: The city and the city. Came highly recommended by Petter, and it’s an interesting enough read about two cities superimposed on top of each other, where living in one city requires you to unsee the other one, on punishment of Breach. It’s a novel idea, but it’s not really necessary for the story and serves only as a magical backdrop. Scifi-Noir stuff, but fun to read.

Chester Brown: Paying for it. I hadn’t read Brown in a long time and had forgotten how brutally honest he is. This graphic novel chronicles how he became a john – only having sex he’s paying for. He’s an extreme libertarian, and although I’m certain that he gives an honest account of his thinking, the pages come over as a tract and his detractors as made of straw more often than not. Interesting for the raw exhibitionism more than for the arguments made, although the topic is important and unresolved.

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling: A libertarian walks into a bear. In New Hampshire there’s an attempt of libertarians to take over a city to launch-pin a libertarian revolution. Written mostly for laughs it’s light on political analysis and heavy on human foibles and roaming bears. It’s unclear what the writer want to accomplish, but it’s entertaining enough.

Keiko Furukura: Convenience store woman. Keiko Furukura is a 30-something woman with no socially acceptable ambitions or priorities. Her family and few friends despair over her inability to get a better job than that in a convenience store, and her disinterest in starting a family is a source of worry for everyone but her. A lovingly told short novel.

Sally Rooney: Conversations with Friends. Two young adults and a married hetro couple get involved and there are complications and drama. Not the most interesting story or characters, but the dialogue is well written.

Ramez Naan: Nexus. Sean Carrol had Naan on his podcast so I picked up the book. In a near future where a drug – Nexus – gives you the ability of connecting wirelessly with other people, exchanging thoughts, senses, creating a hivemind, there’s a battle between governments stemming the flood of post–/transhumans and activist scientists and others who’d like to either release it to the world or use it for nefarious ends. A techno-thriller worth reading for the collection of arguments, if not for the literary qualities.

Audio

Iain M. Banks: State of the Art. Short story collection, including at least one canonical Culture novelette set in the 70’s which seems to have the authors alter-ego pouring bile on the shortcomings of humanity. A great cannibalistic dinner offering cloned-dictator.

Iain M. Banks: Excession. This might be the forth or fifth time I’ve read/listened to this one, but it’s the first time I recall that I’m bothered by the female characters in the book – even though they have agency they come off as too one-dimensional. The introduction of the Affront and the machinations of the minds are great fun though.

Iain M. Banks: Inversion. Fun medieval court intrigue – but my main occupation was to try to spot details which gave away the Culture origin of the two characters.

Iain M. Banks: Look to Windward. The internal dialogue between Quilan and his admiral hitchhiker, and the banter of Ziller & Kabe, is enjoyable and the emotional tone fits the characters – one of the more intimate stories apart from Use of Weapons.

Iain M. Banks: Matter. Ferbin and Holse – master and servant – remind me of Wooster and Jeeves (PG Wodehouse characters) as they try to escape regicide and get help from Ferbins self-exiled sister Anaplian. The involved backstory is mostly confusing – unless the bickering politicking is all there is – but the the shell worlds and the the way the primitive societies have adapted to them is view them is a fun read.

Iain M. Banks: Surface Detail. Rape & revenge story, and an unrelated tying together of the Zakalwe storyline. A bubbly and joyful “only slightly psychopatic” ship mind – Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints – provides comic relief and is probably the most interesting part. The hells read more sadistic than necessary, but since they are supposed to be the ultimate evil I guess they’d have to be.

Iain M. Banks: The Hydrogen Sonata. Well crafted story and some fun scenes, but the Gzilt backstory is mostly confusing – I can’t see why the Book of Truth would matter all that much. It seems more of a screen on to which Banks could project contemporary human politicking. Some of the sillyness – how many dicks can you craft onto your body? – is a bit detracting, but it’s still Culture and as such still worth a read.

Michael Chrichton: The Andromeda Strain. Well paced techno thriller, striking a nerve in these here Corona times. The exposition isn’t too annoying, and there’s a matter-of-fact tension which is nice. The ending feels deus-ex-deadline though.

MateuszMultiple letters read, 2020 retrospective

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