Discussion: Rereading

Posted 23 July, 2018 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

I’ve probably written about rereading books here before, but it bears talking about again. I can’t understand the people who feel it’s a waste of time — it seems like hubris, to imagine that for every book you read, you get absolutely everything out of it on the first try and never need to read it again. I’m an English Literature grad, and I wouldn’t claim that — and in my Natural Sciences degree, I wouldn’t presume to think I understood most papers until a third or fourth reading, though granted they tend to be technical.

I mean, that’s the fancy excuse for rereading: I want to get everything I can out of it. (And for some books that’s definitely true: I’m still getting new stuff out of The Lord of the Rings and The Dark is Rising to chew over now, and I don’t know how many times I’ve read them.) It’s a good reason, but honestly, I don’t want it to eclipse the real reason I might reread a book: because I feel like it. Because I want to revisit that world. Because it was just that good the first time and I want to re-experience it. Because I need to refresh my mind before I read the sequel.

I mean, if you don’t enjoy rereading, then that’s one thing — but if it’s just because there’s so many books and so little time, well, that’s going to be true whether you reread or not. If you feel like rereading, why not? Again it comes down to the principle I keep reminding myself of: I read for fun. I don’t read to hold the record of the most unique books read in a single lifetime, or have an impressive list of all the classics checked off. What’s the point?

There is a flipside: you can read a book until it’s too predictable, too worn through in your mind. The best books can survive this, but even a good book can get a bit threadbare. (Good Omens, I’m looking at you.) But then it’s not so fun anymore, so the fun principle still holds.

So yeah. For my money, go reread books until your physical copies are floppy and faded with age and they fall open on your favourite bits. Talk about books you’ve reread until people are sick of hearing about it (I won’t get sick of hearing about it). Take any excuse if rereading is something you enjoy. You don’t owe those other books a thing.

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Review – Children of Time

Posted 22 July, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Children of Time by Adrian TchiakovskyChildren of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky

As an idea, this is a really fascinating novel. There’s the fall of human civilisation, a not-quite-a-generation-ship ark of humanity trying to find old terraformed worlds after humanity began to rebuild itself, there’s genetic experiments, there’s a whole novel society in the form of uplifted arachnids… For me, it was more of a novel of ideas than one in which I got to care about any particular character — especially since the spider characters may have shared names, but weren’t the same people or even roles across generations. There was some pathos in the relationship between the main crew member we follow and Lain, but… Mostly it wasn’t about individuals.

As a biologist, I’m not sure I agree with how Tchaikovsky has set up the uplift story. He uses a nanovirus, which… I guess is basically magic handwaving, because an actual virus wouldn’t be able to do nearly what he suggests. The ‘message’ of the virus would be scrambled within a couple of generations, if not immediately, and a virus couldn’t work intelligently toward a particular goal — especially not with multiple different species. It sounds like hard science because the explanation is there and holds up if you don’t have detailed knowledge of viruses, but it isn’t really hard science because once you’re talking about a “nanovirus” that isn’t really a virus (which it manifestly can’t be) then you’re just magically handwaving. We can’t do accurate gene editing yet at all, even with CRISPR/cas9, let alone with a viral vector, so he’s extrapolating way too far from the data for it to be hard science (which is how the person who recommended me this sold it, as an antidote to wishy-washy socially based science).

Obviously, that’s all a bit of a personal peeve since I love CRISPR and understanding diseases: most people wouldn’t want to argue so much with it, I think! After all, it’s really just there to explain how the uplift happens — and one key event at the end. As far as I’m concerned, hard science should be much more closely beholden to known facts and existing technology, or it’s just magic. (Any sufficiently advanced technology appears to be magic…)

That aside, I did enjoy the book as an exploration of uplift, as an exploration of the uplift of an Earth species very different to us, and as an exploration of the clash between that species and what’s left of the human race. The AI and her struggle to understand herself and what happened is also well done: her loneliness and obsession is well depicted, even if you can’t really like her as a character. I’m not sure how to feel about the ending, how the spiders resolved things, but all in all… definitely worth chewing on and thinking about some more.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Hadrian’s Wall

Posted 21 July, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Hardian's Wall by David Breeze and Brian DobsonHadrian’s Wall, David J. Breeze, Brian Dobson

This is a fairly in-depth examination of the Wall and the archaeology done around it to try and understand what it was used for and at what times. As such, it’s a lot of information that most people wouldn’t expect to hold in their heads after, unless they’re deeply interested in the topic. Which is pretty much exactly why I read this, back during my exam period. I really love reading books like this that sift through the archaeology, present possible conclusions and discuss what is most likely. I don’t expect to remember this or that about the forts — no one expects me to remember it — but all the same I learned about the Romans and the British of the period, and got to connect some dots in what I know.

It’s perhaps not the most scintillating reading if you’re not pretty engaged and interested in the topic, but it’s interesting stuff and they make a good case for their ideas.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 21 July, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Good morning folks! Today me and the wife are off on a trip to see a friend, but I’ll be dropping by to see people’s weekend posts when I get back. It’s been a quiet week… except, you know, the bit where I got my exam results. A distinction and a grade 2 pass — in other words, I kicked butt.

In the meantime, here’s two new books I got using the credit from a Kobo Price Match (if you use Kobo and didn’t know about Price Match, when Amazon seriously beats Kobo’s prices, definitely consider asking them to price match!).

Books bought:

Cover of Spectred Isle by K.J. Charles Cover of A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White

Books read this week:

Cover of The Voices Within by Charles Fernyhough Cover of Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne Cover of The Henchmen of Zenda by KJ Charles Cover of Human Universe by Brian Cox

Cover of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman  Cover of Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers Cover of The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

Reviews posted this week:

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence, by Michael Marshall Smith. I wanted a lot more from this, really; there’s just something off about it, like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. 3/5 stars
Scarweather, by Anthony Rolls. Atmospheric and rather creepy, and I think I enjoyed it more just reading it than I do thinking it over afterwards. Then it gets rather threadbare — and also tropey. 2/5 stars
The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente. Very clever, if perhaps a little repetitive of the previous books — intentionally so, but nonetheless, when you’ve read the others recently it’s very obvious. Fun, as always, though. 4/5 stars
Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, by Nick Lane. Good on both mitochondria themselves and what they mean in terms of the origin of life. 5/5 stars
The Deep, by John Crowley. I kind of… don’t get it. I mean, I get the story, but I don’t get why it’s a Masterwork. 2/5 stars
The Notting Hill Mystery, by Charles Warren Adams. Fairly typical, and mostly of interest if you’re interested in the classics of the Golden Age (and before, since this was a first) in a more academic sense, I think. 2/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Book Fandom Friends. Sometimes we’re all so close it’s like we know each other, and then you remember you haven’t a clue about the basics of someone’s life.
WWW Wednesday. The usual update!

So how’re you? How’s your week been? Got any plans for the weekend?

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Review – The Notting Hill Mystery

Posted 20 July, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren AdamsThe Notting Hill Mystery, Charles Warren Adams

The main point of interest in this classic is the fact that it was a first. The introduction is more interesting than the book in many ways, putting it in its context and explaining why it was significant. The introduction is short, don’t get me wrong, but the story itself is a fairly typical one in many ways. You can guess at the motives, and the mysteriousness is not at all mysterious to someone used to the genre. Not that it’s bad, just that it’s not particularly unique or surprising in any way. The writing is workmanlike, and in some places dips into being almost incomprehensible (but then, I find Dickens like that at his worst, and some people think he writes amazing prose, so take me with a pinch of salt). The plot probably was rather shocking at the time, but leaves me going, so? And of course, the poisoning by proxy is rather… impossible.

In any case, I had fun reading it in terms of connecting the dots with other classics of crime fiction, and it wasn’t a bad way to pass the time, but it’s not something I’m wildly enthusiastic about or would particularly recommend.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Deep

Posted 19 July, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Deep by John CrowleyThe Deep, John Crowley

I left this a few days to stew before trying to review it, and I still can’t really decide what to make of it. There’s a plethora of names with too many similarities to really keep track, and to what extent it matters is kind of up in the air as well, and that sense of confusion kind of permeated the whole thing for me. It does emerge into the light a bit at the end, with you being able to get a clearer sense of the cyclical story the novel follows, and the potential changes wrought by this particular version of the cycle… but, I don’t know, it never quite worked for me.

Reading some other reviews helps me appreciate it more, but on its own I was just left feeling… meh. I was a heretic and felt that way about Little, Big, too, so maybe it’s a me-thing.

I just… didn’t enjoy it, however much of a classic (or an SF Masterwork) it might be.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Power, Sex, Suicide

Posted 18 July, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Power, Sex, Suicide by Nick LanePower, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, Nick Lane

I read this while I was preparing for one of the final exams of my biology degree, so perhaps it’s no surprise that I found it helpful in revising some of the topics (mostly apoptosis!), but also found that knowledge useful in understanding the book itself. To me, it seemed an incredibly clear and well-written account of the role of mitochondria in life and the origin of life, and I didn’t really find any major holes in it based on what I know. If you’ve read The Vital Question, then a lot of the ideas in it aren’t new — but of course, that makes sense, since The Vital Question is a more recent book by the same author.

And since this is pop science, I should add that you don’t need the biology degree to understand it. It might be slower going and less like pleasure reading if you don’t have a solid background in science, but it should work at that level too.

I do roll my eyes a little bit at the title, which is obviously drumming up excitement by sounding provocative and then like a self-help book, but hey, maybe it’s persuaded someone on the fence to pick it up just through sounding a bit unusual for the section it’s in. It’s worth picking up, definitely.

Rating: 5/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 18 July, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of Human Universe by Brian CoxHuman Universe, by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen. I’d kind of expected a little more of a biological focus from something called Human Universe with a chimpanzee hand reaching out to touch a spacesuited human hand on the cover, but so far it’s very much been about humanity’s place in the wider universe. It’s light on the equations, though, and I’m now onto a chapter which is discussing the Fermi Paradox and the Drake Equation, which is the kind of thing I can really get into.

I’m also reading Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo. I’m enjoying it, but also kind of stalling with it — I want to see Kaz’s point of view more, and… I don’t know, something isn’t quite working for me.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of The Invisible Library by Genevieve CogmanI zipped through The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman as a little treat to myself after some truly stellar exam results; it remains a lot of fun, and I found myself pondering a lot on the great relationships between Kai, Vale and Irene, and wondering what would happen if any of them developed romantic relationships with each other and who I’d want to get together. (I’ve no idea if that’s the way Cogman plans to go with the characters, it just struck me as I was reading the bit where Kai propositions Irene.)

What will you be reading next?

Looks like Witchmark by C.L. Polk is the next book to win my #MakeMeReadIt polls on Twitter, so that’s probably next up. I’ve already started that, really; I just need to get back into it! Other than that, I’ll be continuing my reread of Cogman’s books, so The Masked City is up next.

What are you reading?

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Review – The Boy Who Lost Fairyland

Posted 17 July, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Boy Who Lost Fairyland, Catherynne M. Valente

It’s rather weird and jarring to go from the last book into this one focused on someone who isn’t September. The narrator nods to that fact, but really it’s no less infuriating: the last book left September in the lurch and I needed to know. It wasn’t so bad on this reread, but still. Still!

It’s not that Hawthorn isn’t a darling and his companions aren’t excellent and that the depiction of our world through the eyes of Fairylanders isn’t funny and wry and all wonderfully aslant, because all of those things are there. Hawthorn is a darling, his Rules for understanding the world are great, Tam is great. But. September!

Reading it a second time and knowing that, though, and having some more patience with it, I did love all the callbacks to September’s story, the little narrative references and mirrorings. It’s all very clever, in a very typically Valente-ish way, and it’s enjoyable to read it and notice what she’s up to. (And that level of the reading is what makes me think the series had so much to offer older readers as well as young: there’s just so much cleverness to savour.)

But I’m still very glad to get back to September and Ell and Saturday when this book is over.

Rating: 4/5

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Discussion: Book Fandom Friends

Posted 16 July, 2018 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

This week’s topic is about the friends we make through our blogs! Or really, the fact that we don’t know too much about each other sometimes — I feel like I know some of your tastes so well and know exactly where we dovetail in terms of what we each enjoy, but I don’t know where you’re from or whether you’re married or what you do for a living or… Sometimes, it feels like I know you so well on the level of how you respond to books, it’s a shock to realise I have no idea if you have siblings or whether you live in Montana or on the moon.

So! Here is a basic profile of some things that are important about me; does any of it surprise you? What would you like to share with me in return? (Don’t feel obligated to share the same stuff — whatever you want to reveal.)

Name: Nikki
Age: 28
Birthday: 20th August
Location: LeuvenBelgium, but only for another 15 days
Living with: Wife and six bookcases
Siblings: One sister, one dude I adopted as my brother because we needed to stick together
Marital status: Thank god she reads books too
Pets: Two rabbits, Breakfast and Hulk
Job: Freelance transcription and website support; just finishing up a full time degree (my third!) in biology
Ebook or dead tree: Both, either, depends on my mood
Night owl or morning lark: Night owl
Favourite bookshop: The American Book Center in Amsterdam
Favourite animals: Hippos, giraffes, and now rabbits
Other hobbies: Doing degrees, playing video games, crocheting, buying more books to read

That’s all a bit daft and probably doesn’t help, so hey, ask me anything you want to know! I might even answer. I love our community; let’s make it a little bit closer yet (even though I feel like I know enough about you to know we’ll get along if I know your taste in books). <3

And hey, how do you feel about the whole blog thing? Do you feel like you get to know people through their books? Do you sometimes wish you knew other folks better? Or are the books enough?