Current Reads - March 2019

I set a high goal for number of books I aim to read each year. I’ve come close more than I’ve hit that number. A few of the most recent years are tracked over on my Goodreads account, which is literally the only thing I use that app for. I guess sometimes I look up books to see if they’re a part of a series. Nowhere does it as well as Goodreads, which lists the title, the number that title is in the respective series, and the title of the series as a whole. Amazon has somehow failed at doing this simply, for years, and still does, despite now owning Goodreads. Anyway.

NON-FICTION

The Man Who Tried to Save the World by Scott Anderson
Journalist Scott Anderson came to my attention when I listened to his interview on Longform, one of my favorite podcasts. I’ve revisited that episode a few times. Anderson tells a story about traveling abroad with his brother Jon Lee Anderson, a trip which resulted  in the book War Zones. I’m desperate to get my hands on that book, by the way. Anderson tells snippets of his experience on the Longform episode and they are some of the most harrowing tales I’ve heard about a journalist out in the world. This particular book is about a guy named Fred Cuny, an American citizen who was dedicated to disaster aid and relief, which led him into the heart of Chechnya in the 90s, where he disappeared. Anderson embarks on a journey to find some answers. You won’t get past page two without wondering how close to death everyone in the book is going to wander.

The Nixon Tapes: Volume 1, 1971 - 1972 - Edited and annotated by Douglas Brinkley and Luke A. Nichter
Richard Nixon wasn’t the first U.S. president to record conversations in the Oval Office, but he’s certainly the most infamous to do so. He expanded the recording equipment to include various rooms within the White House, as well as Camp David, and oh yeah, he didn’t tell everyone, or nearly anyone, really; just a few aids and some Secret Service members. This collects conversations between Nixon and plenty of familiar faces, including Henry Kissinger, John Mitchell, and H.R. “Bob” Haldemann. The editors point out these conversations won’t have a lot of references to Watergate, but the next collection covering 1973 does. I’ve been obsessed with Watergate and everything surrounding it for a handful of years now, so this, its follow-up, and Nixonland by Rick Perlstein have been on my TBR for a bit. These clandestinely taped conversations were once seen as shocking, but I can only imagine now, with our current political climate, they’ll come across as largely tame and boring. Important to remember that Nixon was lying to a lot of people on a very regular basis, including nearly every single person he was taping. Kissinger wasn’t even in on it, which gives me a little jolt of joy to think Nixon didn’t trust him.

Into the Hands of the Soldiers by David D Kirkpatrick
Likewise with Watergate, I’ve been obsessed with the Arab Spring. I’m a huge fan of The Square documentary, directed by Jehane Noujaim. I have Cairo by Ahdaf Soueif waiting on the TBR pile, part of my goal to understand that city and its surrounding country better, a country which is second only to Israel in military funding by the U.S. This book begins with the Arab Spring which David Kirkpatrick managed to be present for in various stages, and although I’m not halfway through yet, the book’s synopsis, and even the portion I’ve already read, makes it clear this will be about how the U.S. media got the Arab Spring wrong. Not too shocking of an idea, although it’s perhaps a little painful since the point seems to be how it was cast as a perfectly peaceful and successful revolution on the part of Egypt’s dispossessed, a sort of Hollywood glitz added to dress up the truth of how bloody and nasty something like revolution actually is. 

FICTION

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula, this is a kind of Cyber/Steampunk presentApocalyptic novel that is—yeah, kind of hard to describe. There are genetically engineered foods, busy markets filled with said objects, and political intrigue. I’m also not too far into this one, but I can tell I’m going to like it partly because Bacigalupi is a great prose stylist. I know the political portion will probably contribute greatly to why I enjoy it, but the Cyberpunk trappings will too. And potentially I’m misinterpreting the Steampunk portion early on, but that’s also a part I’m enjoying. It seems very vivid despite being quite hard to nail down. 

Invisible Planets - An anthology of contemporary Chinese sci-fi in translation, edited and translated by Ken Liu
If you recognize the name Ken Liu it’s either because you’ve read or seen The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (no relation) which he translated. Liu is a great novelist as well, his own epic fantasy series began with The Grace of Kings, which I have waiting on me along with his short story collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. This collection is great so far. I’ve read two stories by Chen Qiufan, one called The Year of the Rat, the other The Fish of Lijiang. The first was a sort of Stephen King-esque search for the eponymous creature, but with much more science-fiction concepts thrown in. The second was a kind of emotional journey into humanity’s perception and addiction to time. I was a huge fan of both, and can’t wait for The Waste Tide, Chen Qiufan’s novel currently being translated by Ken Liu. In the intro to this collection Ken Liu says these stories should be given as much thought and depth as every other sci-fi/speculative story, and not simply assigned shallow meanings based on current or even historical political/economical/social upheavals in China. I strongly recommend this book to anyone looking for new sci-fi voices, and although I’m not far in, and will most definitely encounter a story or two I don’t connect with (just the nature of anthologies) I know it’s going to be a fun read, and do a ton for my creative energy.