#balisebooks – End of 2019

Version française ici : #balisebooks – Fin 2019

All right. It seems pretty obvious that even trying to get one #balisebooks a month actually doesn’t work, since I haven’t written one for all of the last trimester of 2019. Giving some more thought about it, I’m thinking that maybe it isn’t the frequency that’s a problem, but the fact that I try to be exhaustive here – and hence ending up procrastinating because there are books that I just don’t have much to say about. So let’s try the “non-exhaustive” approach, where I’m only going to talk about the books I really want to talk about, possibly keep a few books for a stand-alone post if I feel like it (because so far I’ve been avoiding that since I’ve grouped my book reviews in larger posts, and that’s not what I want to do anymore), and if you’re reaaaally interested about everything that I put in my hands, you can have a look at my GoodReads profile. Okay?

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems – Randall Munroe

The books of Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame) are pretty much an auto-buy for me, and actually usually a paper buy – because there’s enough graphical content that it’s awkward on Kindle. Which puts me in the awkward position of having a book, wanting to read a book, and then not necessarily read it fast because it’s in a format in which I don’t read much. First world problems, I tell you.

The subtitle of the book is a pretty good description of the book – the chapters are named “how to move”, “how to take a selfie”, “how to make friends”, but also “how to build a lava moat” and “how to make an emergency landing” which, admittedly, may be less “common” problems than others. And for each of these chapters, Munroe goes into his version of a “stand-up sketch With Science!”, going into tangents, weird corner cases, and ways to look at the problem that are… pretty uniquely his. To see what I mean, you can read How to Send a File, and have a few giggles. And all in all, it was a brilliantly entertaining holiday read 🙂

Recommended to: fans of xkcd who like Munroe’s absurd approach to things; people who like their pop science with a (large) dash of fun.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow

I love an intriguing and poetic title, and this one definitely did it for me – definitely an instance of “see title, put book on ‘to read’ list”. The title loses a bit of its mystery when you realize that the main character is called January, and we’re not talking about the month; but the “ten thousand doors” keep their appeal. This novel is the interleaved stories of a girl who finds a Door to another world, and of a scholar of said Doors. The prose is beautiful, I liked the story – which was fairly memorable too. The rhythm feels somewhat slow, especially at the beginning; and for me to say so may mean a lot, because I usually enjoy slow rhythms more than fast-paced plots that explode everywhere 🙂 I almost gave up after the first third, but in the end I’m happy I didn’t, because I did enjoy the story of January.

Recommended to: people who enjoy a beautiful story set in a well-described environment, a slow rhythm and multi-voice narration.

A Ticket for Life – Marzia Mura

This one is maybe a bit of an outlier, because it may not be the most memorable book per se, but it IS a very pleasant read, and since it’s self-published, there’s a fair chance it’s not necessarily on many people’s radar.

It’s the story of Theresa and Andrew – they have a perfect life in a perfectly balanced utopia, part of a closed community that’s shut down from the rest of the world, and who have a very large probability of being able to live forever. But to keep the utopia sustainable, choices had to be made – and the hardest one for Theresa is the strict population control that’s applied to all the community inhabitants. The only way for her to have a child is to win a lottery, which does not happen often in the first place – and Theresa is very decided to skew the odds in her favor.

All in all, it’s a good thriller, and the dystopian world-building is interesting and well done – if you’re in the mood for that kind of story, there’s worse choices out there 🙂

Recommended to: people who enjoy thrillers and dystopian settings.

The City Born Great – N.K. Jemisin

A short story, available here: The City Born Great. The premise is that when a city gets big enough, old enough – it gets a conscience and life of its own. And this time, it’s New York City’s time, and we follow the story of its reluctant midwife.

It’s frankly quite weird. Aaaaand super good. Which is pretty much what I can say about everything I read from Jemisin so far – it’s DEFINITELY more original and more demanding than a lot of things I read, and it’s ALWAYS worth it. There’s a book, due in March, called The City We Became, and that starts where this short story ends – I’m very much looking forward to it.

Recommended to: people who enjoy beautiful prose, engaged writing, and who like their fantasy reading to be challenging and original. Also, everyone, because it’s so short you may as well read it anyway.

Open Borders – The Science and Ethics of Immigration – Brian Caplan and Zach Weinersmith

Like Munroe’s, I tend to pick up most of the things that Zach Weinersmith (of SMBC fame) does. For this one, he’s been very clear that it’s somewhat removed from his usual body of works – Open Borders IS a comic book, but it is a comic book about immigration policy, which may not be the easiest topic (and definitely not the most consensual topic either 🙂 ). In it, Caplan argues in favor of just opening the borders and let anyone who wants to immigrate in any country (well, specifically the US) do so. He goes through the commonly-heard (and less commonly-heard) arguments against it, and proposes solutions/measures to assuage most fears, without being dismissive of them. I learnt some stuff, and it gave me a lot of food for thought on some specific points. I wouldn’t expect that people who are absolutely opposed to the whole concept would change their minds about it, but it does present (at least seemingly) solid and pragmatic arguments.

Recommended to: people interested in political and social questions, who feel they could do with a bit more context and arguments about the immigration topic, and who are not afraid to get their opinions challenged.

Polaris Rising / Aurora Blazing – Jessie Mihalik

A lighter read: if you get a mix of space opera and romance where the space opera is entertaining and the romance is more than decent (hrm. Bad choice of words there. Decency called and is not happy.), I call that a win. Polaris Rising and Aurora Blazing are two novels set in the same universe, where the respective main characters of the novels are two sisters from one of the three High Houses that essentially rule the universe. There is quite a lot of action – , to be honest, sometimes a bit too fast-paced for my taste, likable characters, very good world-building on top of a neat universe. Plus, you know, kick-ass princesses, essentially. All in all, super-enjoyable fluff – and I’m all about super-enjoyable fluff.

Recommended to: lovers of fluff, space opera, and kick-ass princesses.

Comme un roman – Daniel Pennac

(translated to English as Reads like a Novel, Better than Life and The Rights of the Reader) I saw Comme un roman in my husband’s mother’s bookshelf, went “ooh, a Pennac I haven’t read”, and read it over Christmas. It’s a collection of four essays – or a single long one – about reading and readers. It starts with kids learning how to read, continue with teenagers learning about literature, teachers teaching and transmitting their love of reading, and ends with a general reader manifesto.

I absolutely loved everything about it – Pennac is one of my favorite French authors, his writing is consistently hitting just the right spot and the right turn of phrase, and his Comme un roman reads like reader candy.

Recommended to: everyone who likes the “meta” aspect of reading.

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

I started the year with one of the most depressing reads in the past few months, possibly years. Everything I Never Told You starts with the death of Lydia, 16 – and moves around in everything that happened before and the aftermath of that tragic event in her family: her dad, her mom, her brother, her sister… and herself. As we learn more about the family dynamic, we also get some explanation about that night where everything changed. Tragic probably applies to the whole set of circumstances – which is probably what makes that novel so tough. There would be enough flaws in the characters to make them hard to understand, but I found myself empathizing with every single one of them, which makes Everything I Never Told You a fast emotional roller coaster. It’s consequently pretty hard for me to say if I even liked that book. It’s objectively superb, but I don’t see myself ever be able to re-read ever again. I think I want to read more of what Celeste Ng has written, though, so that’s probably a sign I did like it 🙂

Recommended to: emotion-seekers, people who like tragedies and/or family stories.

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