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Joined 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I love books, grew up among, and still live among, teetering piles of To Be Reads. In my dotage here, I admit I have less patience for plots that feel too familiar, and I tend (even more than I always have) toward the strange and surreal. But a beautifully-written and perfectly normal book can also bowl me over.

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Flowers of Buffoonery (2023, Norton & Company Limited, W. W.) 3 stars

Probably an excellent book

3 stars

Content warning Mild spoilers for the basic background premise

Railsea (EBook, 2012, Tor Books) 4 stars

"On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses …

An amazing adventure!

5 stars

Just such a wild and good book. It could be described as "Moby Dick, except that instead of chasing a whale in a sailing ship, they're chasing a giant mole in a railroad train", and that would be accurate but also not. And it sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it works, and it's terrific.

It's also steampunk of a sort, but steampunk that's fresh and unique and not Just Steampunk.

It is a wonderful time, a rollicking adventure, a sweet romp, complete in itself, the loose ends not exactly tied up but not exactly left dangling. It is easy to imagine (and even long for) sequels, or other stories in the same universe, but it's also easy to imagine there won't be any; this was about perfect.

Highly highly recommended.

Phyl-Undhu (2014, Time Spiral Press) 2 stars

An expedition into the indescribable.

Ineffective horror

2 stars

I came to this book from Sandifer's "Neoreaction a Basilisk", and even though that book is partly a commentary on this one, the commentary is in this case more interesting than its subject.

It may be that different people just have very different susceptibilities to horror, and that mine and Land's have little or no overlap. This brief story shows us two parents worried about their daughter, the three of them going into a somewhat interesting sensory-immersion video game together, and then coming out again (OR DO THEY??? [portentous orchestra hit]).

Even including that obvious final trope, nothing about it struck me as disturbing, scary, horrible, or anything else related to horror, although there were lots of multisyllabic words telling me how terror-inducing it all was. Okay, I guess? For some people?

Various promising elements introduced early on (a creepy stuffed animal, a classmate attempting suicide after the daughter said …

Death at Sea (Paperback, English (in translation from Italian) language, 2018, Penguin) 3 stars

Eight short stories about Inspector Montalbano and his crew.

It was... okay?

3 stars

I feel as though I ought to have enjoyed these little police mysteries more, given how famous and well-regarded the author and the character are.

I read the first story and half of the second a while back, but bogged down and put it aside. Today I picked it up again, more determined, and read from the beginning of the second story all the way through. It wasn't bad?

These are simple crime mysteries with a homey feel; one is clearly supposed to like Inspector Montalbano and his setting: the general feel of small-city Sicily, the housekeeper who cooks so well, the young girlfriend from Genoa whom the housekeeper dislikes, the various foods and drinks that are so often and lovingly mentioned, the colleague that knows the history of every attractive woman in town, the eccentric unreliable secretary or something at the station who talks in a barely comprehensible accent …

Instant Zen (1994) 5 stars


5 stars

Remember that no teacher has ever spoken or written a single word of teaching!

About halfway through this book, Foyan writes:

"I will settle something for you right now: the ultimate rule is to see your own mind clearly. This is what Buddhism is, as far as I am concerned."

That's it, that's the whole thing. Every other section of this book, every other sentence, is not saying anything different.

So, why? Because, I would speculate, even though it is all the same, and all free of any content or teaching, each different series of words, like a different set of bird cries or patterings of raindrops, might be the thing that someone needs to hear to be freed, or to attain a little insight. Or to smile.

And Foyan may have been a wily expert at arranging especially effective ways of saying exactly the same empty thing.

Therefore, read …

Klara and the Sun (Hardcover, 2021, Faber & Faber) 4 stars

From her place in the store, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, watches …

An amazing book; can I have more stars to give it?

5 stars

This is one of those very rare books that reminds me of what books are at some level all about. That makes me want to go about and knock about two stars off of 99% of my prior book ratings, to make room to properly differentiate this one.

It's hard to say too much that's concrete, without giving it away. I was closer to tears at the end of this than I can remember with any book for a long time. Not easy maudlin tears, but deep oh-my-god tears about what a universe this is.

The people are very fully people; the viewpoint character is not a person, but ... well, that would be a spoiler also. But the viewpoint it gives her allows Ishiguro to say some amazing and touching and true and thought-provoking things without coming out and saying them (because nothing he could come out and say …

Once upon a Tome: The Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller (2023, Norton & Company Limited, W. W.) 5 stars

Welcome to Sotheran’s, one of the oldest bookshops in the world, with its weird and …


5 stars

Just a wonderful book for anyone who loves books, bookshops, old books, old bookshops, or any combination thereof. Laugh out loud funny in places, touching and thoughtful in places. Possibly slightly fictional here and there, but with very true fiction. Also British!

Hotel Bosporus (Paperback, 2004, Brand: Diogenes Verlag AG, Diogenes Verlag AG) 4 stars

Review of 'Hotel Bosporus' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

A fun read, lots of Istanbul atmosphere

I didn't find the murder-mystery aspect all that interesting (and really the fact that the protagonist owns a murder-mystery bookshop wasn't played up at all), but the descriptions of places in Istanbul and the interactions between different kinds of people, different nationalities and strata of society, between the various neighborhoods and areas of the city itself, kept me reading.

Recommended especially if you're in love with Istanbul, Constantinople, and/or the idea of them.

Kalifriki (Hardcover, 2022, Amber Ltd) 5 stars

Review of 'Kalifriki' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

Crazy perfect Zelazny

Stories in a unique and unknowable far-future reality; exotic names from the past and exotic science from just now combine with love and hate, greed and desire, in stories of the unchanging human fundamentals couched in the language and frame of millennia to come. Crazy hallucinatory space opera, highly recommended.

Review of 'The mother hunt' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

Good solid Nero Wolfe

The perfect thing to buy for a quarter at the Friends of the Library Used Book Shed, and then spend a lazy day reading and watching the clouds go by.

A good straightforward Nero Wolfe murder mystery, as told by Archie Goodwin as always, who is in fine light-noir form. A couple of bloodless murders of people we don't really know, some tense but ultimately collegial interactions with the police, descriptions of amazing meals, the inevitable sexual tension between Archie and any nearby women, and ultimately the perpetrator brought to justice.

It is if anything too straightforward, no real surprises or twists, but that's not really why we come to Wolfe's brownstone, after all.

Elder Race (2021, Tordotcom) 5 stars

A junior anthropologist on a distant planet must help the locals he has sworn to …

Review of 'Elder Race' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

A fast, fun, rewarding read.

This kept me reading from the first page to the last. What's happening isn't at all a puzzle, unlike some other books that use the same general concept (some of which I now want to go back and re-read). The way the high-tech protagonist's depression was dealt with was fascinating to me, and not one I've seen before; and having clinical depression myself, I found it plausible and relatable. And the relationship(s) between the high-tech protagonist and the indigenes who see him as a wizard were done well, feeling genuine on both sides.

Very recommended!

The power of an open question (2010, Shambhala) 5 stars

Review of 'The power of an open question' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

A wonderful, if slightly odd, little book. In short, friendly, and relatable chapters, the author lays out, in terms that are Buddhist but not heavy-handedly so, the idea that the way to go through life is to ask questions, without expecting answers or final conclusions.

This strikes a deep chord in me, because final answers are so often wrong, and being open to the actual always-shifting reality around us is an essential aspect of good practice.

The oddity is that now and then, generally in a footnote, the author writes something surprisingly answer-like, for instance casually describing Tibetan Buddhism, the vajrayana, as "the most developed stage in the evolution of Buddhist practice". Is that so? :)

Relatedly, the author is married to her vajrayana teacher, which is kind of yipes, and perhaps shows a bit in the (relatively small) parts of the book that talk about the teacher-student relationship.

These …