Sunday, December 31, 2017

Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore

In the final hours of 2017, I finished my "Read 12 books in 2017" personal challenge by completing Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

This 2012 hardcover copy I received from the library labeled this book as sci-fi/fantasy and typically that is not my genre, and to my pleasure I found that labeling frankly to be incorrect.

I don't know what you call this genre, but it certainly is fiction written in a casual style, incorporating contemporary and future driven themes and and perhaps a tone of nerdy intrigue.

Yes, nerdy intrigue. This book seems to be written with nerds at heart. Especially contemporary nerds who love to think about technology.

The scene of this story is set in San Francisco with characters who designed website, worked for Industrial Light and Magic, and Google. They talk about things in this book like web page coding, OCR (Optical Character Recognition), and Google work culture. Oh yes, and books. 

This modern realism in many ways captures a unique period in history. This book is certainly not for everyone (i.e those who could care less about algorithms stay home). Sloan's book is surprisingly lovely in the way it unfolds and exceeded expectations.

Added surprise bonus for me was when I laid the book down the other evening and turned out the light and found out the book cover was glow in the dark. Never have I read a book with a glow in the dark cover.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Association of Small Bombs

In the quest to get through 12 books in 2017 (this is number 11, finished just before Christmas) I read The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan.

This book with it's setting predominantly in Delhi, India. It starts in 1996 with a marketplace bombing and the death of two young brothers of a Hindu family. The story from there traces the impact and years that follow for various people involved in this moment.

Unlike some other stories that retell the same story from the perspective of different individuals, Mahajan uses a powerful narrative to continually drive this story forward in time while shifting perspectives and writing in a powerful third person omniscient voice. Mahajan seamlessly shifts from the thoughts of one character to the thoughts of another, passing through memories, dreams, aspirations, and thoughts. In this way the writing is strong and powerful.

Equally strong to the writing is the the actual plot, characters and messages. The way the story unfolds with these characters is very believable and while there are some lighter moments mixed with heavier themes everyone seems real -- this is not an allegorical tale with abstractions. While there are Muslims, Hindus, activists and terrorist each person is a true character that is complex and not included to represent an idea. Mahajan gives the characters in this book not just a chance to develop and evolve but to change multiple times, revisiting who they are and there experiences.

In many ways this book is a powerful story that I suspect will shape my own thoughts as I consider the people in news stories of similar bombings or other acts of terror. The story powerfully puts a human face and time into an equation of the news cycle that often moves on quickly. 

Monday, December 04, 2017

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

As part of my 12 books in 2017 reading goals I picked up this book by Michael Lewis. Why? Well...because Michael Lewis.

Michael Lewis -- you probably know his work even if you don't think you know his work.

His candid reporting style on complicated topics is unmatched, and has led to film adaptations about his common topics of sports and Wall Street (Money BallBlindsideThe Big Short).

In this book Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, Michael Lewis explores the impact of the financial crisis on countries who following great (and sudden) prosperity found themselves in unfortunate (and equally sudden) despair.

The was written in 2011, so in some cases these stories have continued with new updates, but the narratives and lasting impact of these events haven't changed.

One of the compelling parts of this book is the presentation of different countries collective misconceptions, ambitions and sins that manifest themselves in different ways. Lewis, clearly presents that Iceland, Greece, Ireland and Germany found themselves in different places post financial crisis for different reasons -- and while these countries have vast histories.

In the final chapter regarding the United States, Lewis paints an interesting picture of the US, especially focusing on California -- which is particularly interesting because one of my favorite parts of this book is his interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Always find something special in a Michael Lewis book, and this is no exception.