November 3, 2014

Recent Reads

150. Song of Myself
I'm not a fan of poetry, and am convinced that I must have had so awful a teacher that I have blocked the entire endeavor from my mind. Though it could just be me. Maybe poems have more meaning as one gets older. Whatever the real reason, I decided to rectify this gap in my education by taking the MODERN & CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN POETRY class offered by Coursera. And I am smitten. 

I have read this poem by Whitman in parts and in its entirety several times. I have listened to a wonderful reading of it by James Earl Jones on an early morning walk. There are parts that I think I get, parts that I know I do not, and parts that simply take my breath away. This is one I can see going back to again and again. Rating: 4 stars.

151. Kill My Mother
From the book blurb: Kill My Mother centers on five formidable women from two unrelated families, linked fatefully and fatally by a has-been, hard-drinking private detective. 

I found this a confusing graphic novel, partly because I simply could not tell the women apart. While I really liked the sketchy artwork, the story was too choppy for my tastes. Rating: 2 stars.

152. The Sparrow
I listened to the audiobook version narrated by David Colacci.

I am a person who wants there to be life out there. Among billions and billions of planets, we cannot be the only one with sentient life forms. And I love first contact stories - even the real ones that take place on Earth.

Sometime in the near future, Earth picks up alien music transmissions, and a team is put together to go investigate. This religious science fiction story is told as two narratives. There is the present day timeline where we get to meet the characters, get ready for the mission, and have first contact, and the future timeline in which a team of Jesuits try to understand how the mission went disastrously wrong by interviewing Father Emilio Sandoz the only surviving member of the team.

I've discovered that Jesuits and Aliens is a sweet spot genre for me. The writing is good, the characters are well developed, and the mystery and suspense created by the two timelines works well. There is rather much more theology than science in this story, but I quite liked the exploration of the inner human psyche as contrasted to the exploration of alien worlds. The team gathered for the mission are all immensely likable (however unlikely that such a team would actually be selected), and if you can gloss over parts that seem rather too conveniently contrived this is an enjoyable read. Rating: 4 stars.

153. Local
Book blurb: A collection of twelve interconnected short stories. Crossing genres as it crosses the country, Local examines Megan McKeenan, a young woman who sets off from Portland, OR with nothing but a backpack and a bad case of wanderlust. Each emotional vignette is a self-contained story that represents one year in the life of this young vagabond as she struggles to find a place to call home, both physically and spiritually.

I'm not usually a fan of short stories, and though some of these stories were better than others, I really liked this graphic novel collection. The black and white art is fantastic, and wonderfully illustrates the mood and place of each story. What links these stories together is Megan - sometimes she is a really minor character - and each story represents one year in her life. 

My only complaint about this collection is that it could have explored the themes of loss, travel, family, community, and identity on a deeper level, and that final story was a little too tidy in my opinion - talk about putting a bow on it! Still this is really good (but it could have been great, darn it). Rating: 4 stars.

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