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Posted on Monday 14 October 2013 at 11:13 am

Meme - 3 Recs. (Recent Reads)

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Hey! It's a meme!

Comment and I will pick a category for you to recommend three things. The category could be broad (eg. "books") or specific (eg. "French cakes"). If you don't feel confident with it, I'll give you another one.

qwentoozla gave me books that I've read recently, with recently open to interpretation.

I'm currently re-reading a bunch of favorites (almost finished the four books of Parade's End, will follow that with Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and am debating Catch-22 after that) so I could definitely rec all of them, but let's go with things I've read for the first time within the past few months. I'm also going to try for variety so there's dense historical politics, light and funny sci-fi, and ridiculous off-the-wall I'm not really sure what to call it.

The Possessed by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Maybe I've already gone on about this too much, but I can't help myself so first up is a heavy, dense, difficult, wonderful and amazing book. The title is also translated into English as either The Demons or The Devils, which are probably more accurate but it is best known as The Possessed. It is the story of a small Russian town in the 1870s and there are really two main elements at work. First is the political aspect as a small cabal of revolutionaries - each character representing a different radical ideology being debated in Russia at the time - plot uprisings, murder, and general chaos and disorder. The analysis of the various philosophies, their origins in the less radical ideologies of a generation before, the perhaps inevitable path from radical revolutionary ideology to death, destruction, corruption, and dictatorship, etc. are really well done and led many to credit Dostoevsky with predicting the course of Russian history for basically the next century, which I think is a little overboard. The second element of the novel is the psychological. The leader of the revolutionary cabal recognizes that he is an idea man and needs a front man and he has his eye on one young aristocrat who is really the cypher at the center of the novel. Trying to understand him, his goals and motives, is the primary goal of the reader and many of the characters. Like Dostoevsky's better known character of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, this guy is definitely not a good guy, but unlike Raskolnikov, he is absolutely fascinating (sorry, I dislike C&P and find R.'s ditherings to be rather boring). For anyone unwilling to dive into 600 or 700 pages of Russian nineteenth century political ideology (I recognize rather sadly that most people won't be anywhere near as into this as I am), there is an hour-and-40-minute or so BBC radio dramatization with Benedict Cumberbatch as the fascinating aristocrat. That's how I first came to the story and it grabbed me and left me wanting more so I had to read the novel immediately. The adaptation necessarily cuts tons and focuses more on the psychological than the political background stuff, but considering the impossibility of translating a door-stop novel into under two-hours of radio, it is a really well done adaptation and tells a complete story.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Willis has a series of novels dealing with a future world in which time travel has been invented and is used by academic historians as part of their research (HOW AWESOME IS THAT!). I believe there are currently four books and I've read two of them. I believe the two I have not read are a duology and really go together but the other two are completely independent plots so you can read any without having read the others. There are some overlapping characters, but they are minor and just add to the background details if you read everything but aren't necessary. I'm saying all this because I'm reccing the second and don't want anyone to be scared away if they haven't read the first. The first is a pretty dark tale set in the midst of the Black Death but after reccing c. 700 pages of nineteenth century Russian political ideology above I figure I should go with something lighter here. To Say Nothing of the Dog is a totally delightful comedic romp. It's like time travel (and very well done and intricate time travel that obeys its own internal laws and really plays with the possible paradoxes) crossed with a bit of Jeeves and Wooster style manor house and society romance comedy.

To Be or Not To Be by (as it says on the cover) Ryan North, William Shakespeare, and YOU!
This is completely off the wall but too much fun to not share. Ryan North is best known for his Dinosaur Comics. I backed his kickstarter for this book and it came out better than I'd imagined possible. To Be or Not To Be is a "chooseable-path" story (Choose Your Own Adventure is trademarked) based on Hamlet. You can play as Hamlet, dead Ghost Hamlet, or Ophelia and, as with all these kind of books, you read a bit then get presented a choice and turn to the stated page to continue the story based on your decision. The path for the actual plot of Shakespeare's play is marked and the commentary on the choices there is brilliant, especially if you try that as Ophelia. Actually, playing anything as Ophelia is brilliant as you can pick paths where you take over and constantly tell Hamlet to stop whining and get his act together, paths where you ditch the whole thing and take off for an island cruise, paths where you become a renowned scientist and advance technology a few centuries, etc and many of those include asides to delight any feminist heart. There are time-travel options, pirate options, lots of ways to die, and all kinds of fun. The writing is often dry and witty and the whole thing is just wonderful silliness.


kizzia at 8:01 pm on 14 October 2013 (UTC) (Link)
Well you couldn't have made me want "To be or not to be" more! Sounds fabulous. And I'm in complete agreement with you on "The Possessed" and I'm going to have to try "To Say Nothing Of The Dog" now as well. Dammit, woman, I already have a stack of half finished books by the bed!
And I'm wondering if we're somehow mentally connected as I'm currently in the middle of "A Man Could Stand Up -" as I've been re-reading Parade's End too!
bratty_jedi at 1:07 am on 15 October 2013 (UTC) (Link)
Sorry about adding to your reading list, but they really are great books. I know how you feel as my To Read list is at least a couple thousand books long.

That's cool that we're re-reading Parade's End at the same time! I finished A Man Could Stand Up last night. I think I'll probably finish Last Post today. I've got the BBC/HBO miniseries on DVD and a roommate hasn't seen it but wanted to so when I started the re-read I told her I'd watch it with her after I finished the books again. When I finished Some Do Not I told her we could start anytime she wanted as we'd have the first three episodes to get through before the show would catch up with me and I'd get ahead again by the time we were through them. We watched episodes 1 and 2 on Thursday night and now she's out of town for the long weekend so I was definitely right about my reading keeping ahead of our watching.
Wine gums, envy, pieces of rainbow
qwentoozla at 1:08 am on 15 October 2013 (UTC) (Link)
I've never read any Dostoevsky (my experience with Russian literature in general is very slim), but that book sounds really interesting! And I sort of wish I had backed the Kickstarter for To Be or Not to Be. It sounds hilarious! I read Dinosaur Comics all the time as well.

I love Connie Willis's time travel books! I actually just reread To Say Nothing of the Dog this year. It's a great book. You're right that Blackout and All Clear go together-- they're like two halves of one really long book. I really liked them too. :)
bratty_jedi at 5:03 pm on 15 October 2013 (UTC) (Link)
To Be or Not To Be is available commercially now so you ca pick it up even without having backed the kickstarter. There was a small prequel, Alas Poor Yorick in which you were Yorick and had to die in the right way to set up the graveyard scene, that isn't available, but the main book is definitely at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's, and presumably other places.

I take my moods with Russian literature. Most of the time I can see why it is brilliant and well regarded but it just isn't my kind of thing. I definitely reacted that way to Crime and Punishment, to all the Chekhov I've tried, and to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. The political angle of The Possessed made it more likely that it would be my kind of thing (and is also why I'm interest in trying War and Peace despite my unenthusiastic reaction to Anna K. That said, I really think the psychological character study of the aristocrat at the center of The Possessed and the relations of some of the other characters are things that would work for anyone and move the novel enough that it can work for someone without my interest in radical and revolutionary political ideologies in particular. About all you'd need to know to get the full story is that the aristocracy was very Frenchified and viewed peasant Russians as a separate race basically and that the serfs were freed by imperial decree in 1861, so about a decade before the story was written and set.

I definitely plan to get to the other two of Willis's time travel books someday. So many books, so little time!

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