Books I’m Reading
Stasiland by Anna Funder
Written by an Australian who worked in East Germany not long after The Berlin Wall fell, this book is about Funder’s attempts to collate some of the stories of what happened to regular people in East Germany under the surveillance and oppression of the Stasi. A highly compelling read, not just because the tales she relates are so incredible (not cloak and dagger incredible, just everyday people falling foul of the system often through no fault of their own), but because Funder uses a style that captures the feel and mood and characters of the people she meets with the same kind of detail, emotion and imagery one normally finds in a novel. I highly recommend this book, and perhaps it is even more poignant to read now given recent events in the US.
Green Rider by Kristen Britain
One of those books that’s been sitting on a shelf for years (it was written in 1998), Green Rider is a heroic fantasy tale about a young woman who suddenly finds herself taking on the mantle of a Green Rider (an elite messenger). I’m in the early stages of this one, and while there is plenty going on and a lot of interesting lore and intrigue, I don’t feel like I have a handle on the heroine of the tale as yet, in terms of knowing who she is. She is capable and such, but otherwise ill-defined. Possibly this is because she was thrust into events before we’d had a chance to get to know her. I also feel that perhaps this book suffers a little bit from being a product of an earlier era in fantasy and still holding onto one or two tropes that are recognised as a bit old hat now. I’ll give it a little bit longer (currently not quite 20% of the way in), but it probably needs to do something soon to keep my attention. Part of the reason for giving it more time is that it was a first novel…
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I read this one this year because it had defeated me a few years ago when I attempted to read it. There were times when I felt like throwing the book aside this time too, but I persisted. Slowly the characters and their plights began to become more compelling and at the heart (and under a layer of heavy-handed prose) I found some things to really like about the book. The fact that you can identify with a murderer is not news to a modern audience, but I think pulling it off in the days when a novel was actually a novelty does take some skill.
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
Second book in the Chaos Walking series. The first book was fantastic. The second suffered a little at times from that problem that often occurs during middle books in trilogies of taking a little time to get to the point. However, the development of characters and tension and the movement and escalation that occur more than make up for a few repetitive patches. By the end I had to go out and buy the next book immediately.
Ship of Theseus by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
A book that is hard to categorise, even hard to call a book in the traditional sense. What you hold in your hands is essentially a library book written by a fictitious world-renowned author named V.M. Straka. This book is being passed back and forth between two readers who are writing notes to each other in the margins. The story progresses on several levels. First there is the story of the book itself, about a man who does not know who he truly is caught up in events involving a worker’s rebellion against an evil businessman. On the other there is the story of the two readers who are trying to piece together the truth in the novel and the real identity of its author. It’s certainly an interesting read, though hard work given you are trying to read a story, footnotes and handwritten margin notes as well as postcards and clipped articles placed in the book by the two readers. Definitely not a book to be read in bed. You could do yourself an injury. That said, it is compelling, and certainly a different approach to form.
UPDATE: The ending was not quite what I expected, but in many ways there was a real satisfaction in that.
Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls by Ruth Downie
This one I’ve been reading partly as research into Ancient Rome and into mysteries set in pre-science eras in general. It is the story of a legion physician named Ruso and his newly-acquired slave Tilla in post-conquest Britain. They find themselves caught up in investigating the disappearances of a number of dancing girls from a local bar. Caught up is perhaps too strong a word though. More than halfway through, and I still don’t quite feel like Ruso is really actively investigating anything. I am enjoying the book and the main characters, their interactions and humour, but I am frustrated with it as a mystery. A certain amount of this is forgivable since this is the first of a series and there is a certain amount of world-building and characters and histories to establish, but when our two investigators ask questions at all there never seems to be much on offer and the questions lead to very little new information. There’s no real feeling of progress. With about 30% to go I will finish the book, but it will need to have a very satisfying last hundred pages or so for me to consider reading more of the series.
UPDATE: The ending made up (a little) for some of the slowness of getting to the point. I am still not convinced I will go out of my way to read any more in the series.
Other Media I am Consuming
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor (Podcast)
I will admit to being late to the party on this one, but it is a hell of a lot of fun. A fictional comedy podcast about a radio show in a North American desert town where all your worst (and weirdest) nightmares are true. Dark and sinister government forces. Mysterious roaming hooded figures in the dog park. A mayoral election between a literal five-headed dragon and the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home.The dark humour of the writing is perfectly complimented by the dulcet, deep, deadpan delivery of Cecil Baldwin as the radio host. As a way to while away long car drives I cannot recommend this enough.