The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov (1954)

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So I’ve been on an Asimov kick lately, and I also signed up for Karen’s Back to the Classics challenge, which means I needed to read a classic crime story… and this is definitely a classic crime story. There was a murder, and the main character is a detective, or “a plain-clothes man” in the lingo of the novel. It totally counts! Woohoo!

I find it interesting that Asimov wanted to write a science fiction murder mystery in the first place—apparently his editor had told him that it wasn’t possible to write, because with science fiction, the mystery could only be solved by what would seem like deus ex machina to the reader… that is, by “magic” technology. I admit, I can imagine that being the case.

Can you imagine how unsatisfying that would be? Imagine if you were reading a modern murder mystery novel in Victorian times (scandalous!), and at the end the detective finds incriminating cellular tissue—say, blood—that we know must belong to the perpetrator. The detective is excited to find this, because of course, boom! There’s the DNA evidence. The perp is caught. You, the Victorian reader, would feel confused and kind of jipped, though. What kind of ending is that?! That’s not a clever ending! This DNA fantasy totally ruins the story! Where’s the elegant reasoned-out evidence?

Yeah, I can see why someone might find the idea of a science fiction murder mystery to be a non sequitur.

But hey, Isaac Asimov did a fantastic job anyway. He pulled it off, and it totally worked. Sure there are fun futuristic forensic tools like cerebroanalysis, but they don’t solve the case. The detective has a robot for his partner in the investigation, but the robot doesn’t magically figure it out with his cold logic. Nah, our detective hero does! It was a very enjoyable read.

Jenna

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Jadzia and the Mulberry Buds

So early Monday morning, Jadzia (5) woke up early. While the rest of us slept, she decided to go climb our tree in the backyard. It’s a fruitless mulberry.

Anyway, she discovered that despite the fact that it is early February, our tree is budding, and the buds look a bit like mulberries.

Oh, she was so excited. She ran in and woke up her brothers. “Mommy! Garak! Odo! WAKE UP! The tree has leaves and little berry things!”

The boys popped up and followed and seemed just as excited. I must confess to groggily muttering, “That’s nice, dear”, rolling over, and going back to sleep.

Eventually, though, she decided I was missing out, and drew the new leaves and buds for me.

So I finally rolled out of bed and took pictures. And then we talked about how the buds look like mulberries and the flowers even look like mulberries, and that the flowers could eventually be berries themselves!

It was an educational morning. I’m excited to see my budding natural scientist grow!

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovichby Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1962)

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This is the first novel I’ve read by Solzhenitsyn, though I’ve heard good things about his writings. I didn’t know what to expect, except that it was a fictional man’s experience in the Soviet gulag camps… and that although fictional, it was based on the author’s own experience in the gulag.

I hadn’t read anything about the gulag before. I had read some things about the Nazi Holocaust; all those were written with the overwhelming message that “you need to know how terrible, awful, horrific this was–let me show you the horror”. And that mood pervades the works I’ve read about the Holocaust.

I was expecting the same thing here.

But… that’s not what this book feels like. Oh no, it’s worse than that.

Reading this one, you’re overwhelmed by how normal it all seems to the novel’s protagonist. The zeks (prisoners) in the gulag weren’t in a continual state of horror. The atrocities of the gulag system somehow became normal. And that’s ten times scarier than the “let me tell all the horrors I’ve seen” approach. Instead you read thoughts like, “Heck yes! We don’t have to stand barefoot in the snow at -40 degrees Celsuis today. Not like those poor sops over there! This might actually turn out to be pretty good day!” And “Sweet! I managed to not get thrown in the hole for ten days. I’d probably die if that happened.” And “I managed to swipe a second breakfast AND a second dinner! I actually feel almost full! What a good day I’ve just had.”

As a follow-up to this one, I’m going to read The Gulag Archipelago… or at least the first volume, because the entire thing is in three volumes and something like 2,200 pages long. I’ve heard it described as a 2,000-page scream. Unlike One Day in the Life, this is nonfictional. Solzhenitsyn wrote it after compiling records and accounts from gulag survivors. I don’t know how well I’ll manage emotionally while reading it, but it’s supposed to be THE book that once and for all revealed the horrors of communism to the world, so I’ve decided I have to buck up and read it, because it’s important to know the truth about things like this. Wish me luck.

Jenna

Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (2017)

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Okay, this sucker has sat intimidatingly on my shelf for a couple of months. Rocketman and I went to a signing and everything, and then I didn’t touch it for a while.

But it’s book 3. I was worried I wouldn’t remember the contents of the first two books, which, um, happens to cover at least 2,000 pages of material already. This book itself is also over 1,200 pages. But hey, I can say that I needn’t’ve been worried about not remembering all the things. Brandon Sanderson does a good job of reminding you of events from before in the text, so I wouldn’t worry about that if that’s what’s keeping you back from reading this one.

Anyway, on to the book itself: Oathbringer.

I liked it. Dalinar, the main character, was presented in the first two books as a hoity-toity more-honorable-than-you kind of person. And in this book, we find out (and he finds out, too—he had, um, supernaturally forgotten) that he hasn’t always been that way. In fact, he, um, was one of the worstest. And so sensitive am I, that I had to come out and let Rocketman comfort me before I could continue to read, because I don’t read about badness very well. It… I don’t know. I have problems. But, as Rocketman said during one of these it’s-ok-it’s-just-a-book hugs, “Dalinar had to go through hell to become the person he is.”

And, well, that’s what the book is about. How do you carry on after past mistakes? How do you keep doing the hard things? How do you keep trying when it seems like all hope is lost? It is a worthy read in itself, even without the two preceding books. It’s a great book in its own right, full of hope.

This is a book about hope.

Besides wanting to read this book ANYWAY, I wanted to read this book and count it for Amy’s Modern Classics Challenge 2018 in the 21st century book category. For the challenge, I need to decide if it will be a classic or not. I think this one will be a classic, or, rather, the entire Stormlight Archive will be classic. It’s exceedingly well done epic fantasy, and I absolutely believe people will be reading it in 100 years. In fact, it’s a little weird to think about, but I think Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere might end up with a scholar or two or more the way Tolkien’s stuff has. And yes, this has an honored place on my bookshelf.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (2017)

nmYou know, I’ve really, really liked everything else I’ve read by Neil Gaiman. I found they had a lot of… oh, I don’t know, pizzazz? I also really like mythology. By all accounts, I was supposed to adore this book.

I didn’t.

I really can’t place why. I know mythology is kind of simple, but this seemed even a little too simple for Gaiman’s work. He spiced it up some, yes. But it wasn’t nearly as exciting as I wanted it to be.

Oh yes, there were bits that were hilarious. The characterization of Loki and Thor were crystal clear.

It might be that it felt too… modern. The characters spoke like 2017 college kids. I think I ached for a bit more… richness. I liked it, but I wanted to be blown away.

Oh well.

I read this for general fiction for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics Challenge 2017. The verdict: I wasn’t blown away by this one. I was expecting to be, since I like Neil Gaiman and I like mythology… but I just felt there wasn’t a lot of depth in this. It was such a simple read. Maybe it was the subject matter. Despite its high popularity this year, I don’t think it’ll continue its popular streak all the way to 2117. Not a classic. Maybe with a bit more oomph, it could’ve been one, but no. I don’t think it’ll enjoy classic status.

Jenna

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

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Rocketman read this aloud to me. He’s a big science fiction fan and he loves sharing that genre with me. Honestly, it’s the biggest reason I read science fiction nowadays. I do really like it, but I like it more because I have a man who loves it so much.

Anyway, Dune is possibly the most successful science fiction novel ever, so I figured I should probably finally get around to reading it.

I’m still not sure what I think about it. I liked it, but how much did I like it?

I don’t think I loved it; there were some really dark elements in it. The main villain is a seroiusly nasty dude. There are some novels where the bad people are bad and it doesn’t gross you out. But THIS guy is a pedophile, and he delights in grooming people to be vicious. He delights in treachery.

I’m apparently too sickened to read about that sort of thing, and I hear the sequels get darker and weirder and… well, sure there are some interesting moral dilemmas to be fleshed out, but I don’t really want to deal with the filth. It’s kind of painful for me.

Dune isn’t my favorite, I think.

I read this as a general fiction selection for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics 2017 Challenge. The verdict: Okay, so this is simply one of the most successful science fiction novels of all time. It is a good book and is undeniably a classic already. And really, though it sounds I may not want the sequels on my shelf due to… well, excessive dark (and quite frankly, weird) material, the first Dune novel itself gets an honored place on the shelf. It’s a classic.

Jenna

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo (2009)

me We listened to this audiobook on a roadtrip. It’s a fun story. It definitely has a very similar flavor to The Tale of Despereaux, also by Kate DiCamillo, so if you like that one, you’ll like this one.

The storytelling was especially effective because the lady reading it was a Shakespearean actress and obviously incredibly skilled. It really took my enjoyment of it to the next level; I think I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly so much if I had simply read it myself.

I’m counting it as children’s fiction for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics challenge. Is it a classic? This was delightful, and I don’t own it. I’m thinking I would swipe it up in a heartbeat if I saw a copy at a thrift shop, though. It’s a lovely book and a well-done one. However… unless it somehow manages to be made into a movie, I don’t think this one will be noticed by many in 2109. Not a classic.

Jenna

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

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I remember really liking all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books as a child, so during a roadtrip, we borrowed this in audiobook format from the library and we listened to it. (Bonus: Madeleine L’Engle herself was reading it.) It had been long enough since I last read it, that I had forgotten all the details.

I’m glad I reread it (or, rather, gave it a listen).  I was probably too young to note all the anti-Communist propaganda in it the first time, so that was fun to note this time around.

I was also too young to realize that some of the ideas in it are falling out of fashion. This is science fiction, yes, but there are angels, and by implication God. There is good and evil. And–get this–love is the powerful force that wins the day. That’s a nice, Biblical idea I keep seeing less and less of.

So perhaps more modern readers might find this book quaint. Well, I think people need ideas like that, especially in their younger years.

Also, I think this book is especially valuable for gifted children to read. It expresses some of the loneliness that gifted children experience; the confusion of being gifted and yet not being academically successful; and the pure joy in finding a like-minded soul. Looking back, this might be one of the biggest reasons I loved this book so as a child. I, too, was a lonely gifted child.

I’m counting this as a selection for children’s fiction for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics Challenge 2017. Is it a classic? The verdict: This one definitely has an honored place on my shelf. It’s a wonderful book, and a pioneer of children’s science fiction. It’s around for good. It’s a classic.

Jenna

Yearning for the Living God: Reflections from the Life of F. Enzio Busche edited and compiled by Tracie A. Lamb (2004)

yftlgThis is a really wonderful book; it’s another LDS work. I didn’t know who F. Enzio Busche was, but it turns out he’s an Emeritus General Authority.

So if you didn’t know who Elder Busche was, please don’t let that stop you. This book is lovely. It’s like having an emeritus GA take you aside personally, put his arm around you and share all his deepest insights with you.

Elder Busche grew up in Nazi Germany. I learned how completely Hitler’s propaganda hoodwinked the German people. The propaganda was all about serving families, God, Germany, and the world. Hitler took the desires the German people had for good and twisted them. Elder Busche thinks that this meant once the Germans realized what they’d fallen for, they were so disillusioned with anything preaching the greater good, and the necessity of being good people, that they didn’t have the heart to believe in sincere messages of that sort anymore. Very sad.

Elder Busche tells us about his conversion to the LDS faith, and truly, I feel like he’s an excellent mentor in how to really, truly communicate with the heavens. This is a memoir. It reads like one. And yet, in a lot of ways, it’s a how-to manual for developing true faith, in the way having a faithful mentor sharing their most sacred faith-growing experiences would. I learned a lot.

I read this on the recommendation of a friend, and I’m glad I did. I think I will share it with my husband, too.

I also read it for the history/biography category for Amy’s Up and Coming Classics Challenge 2017. Is it a classic? The verdict: Oh my, yes. This book. I am keeping this book forever. It’s exceptionally well done. But here’s the thing: it’s already an obscure book. Elder Busche is an emeritus General Authority, so by now most LDS church members don’t know who he his. In 2104, I doubt this book will be known by many. So, no, sadly, not a classic, even if I think it’s worthy of fame.

Jenna