Monday, August 1, 2016

Book Club - July 2016 Reading List

11 books this month. Too much free time? I've also, perhaps, padded the total with some comic books. But they were fat ones.

This book came out in 1985 and I probably should have read it before now. I read her new book a few weeks ago and started looking in her back catalog. "The Handmaid's Tale" supposes a future America where fundamentalist's have taken over. The Handmaid in question has been assigned to a Captain. It's never clear what this guy does for a living but for sure he's part of the ruling structure of Boston, where the story takes place. Her 'job' is to have a child by this Captain, because his wife is barren. Once a month, after a ceremony involving the whole household, he attempts to impregnate her. The population has decreased due to various ecological catastrophes and most women are barren. Since she has literally nothing else to do, she spends her time remembering her former life, with her husband, before the country went mad. If you're into dystopia stories this is a pretty well written one.

Are you a nerd? This book does two things, it traces the literary and filmed history of Batman from the first 1939 comic book to the rumors of the "Batman vs Superman" movie. He also takes up nerd culture, specifically as it relates to Batman starting from the first letter columns in Batman comics in the 1960, through fan magazines, fan conventions, early computer bulletin boards, to the Internet of today. It traces how these nerd voices, few at first, but increasing in number, have had an effect on the owners and producers of Batman material.

I've read and liked stuff by China Mieville before. I read a book of short stories by him earlier in the year which I thought were hit and miss. This book was a hard read. It takes place in a rural town in what appears to be some kind of post-apocalyptic America. It almost seems familiar but it is a society where electricity is scarce, food is scarce, where hoards of orphaned children roam the street, and where nobody really seems to be in charge. The story is mostly told in first person about a 10-year-old boy who believes that his father has murdered his mother. It's told apparently by the adult this boy will become, but Mieville changes the point of view, and the tense often to keep me confused. Even the title becomes confusing. I managed to finish it but it was a difficult read and I'm not sure it was worth the effort.

 Are you surprised that I picked up a few Batman comic books? These are the first two collected comics for the New 52 Batman series. I could explain what that means but I couldn't do it justice. If you really want to know, follow the link to Wikipedia for more information than you'll want to read. In this relaunch of Batman, it turns out that Gotham City has been controlled by a secret society called The Court of Owls. Not even Batman knew this. But when he finds out, all hell breaks out.

Now, this was completely different. The girl of the title is Constance Kopp, who was the first woman deputy sheriff in the US in about 1915. This is actually a real person who hardly anybody has ever heard of. Stewart relates the, mostly true, story of Constance and her two sisters as they try to right a wrong done to them by the racketeering owner of a local factory. Although you might think that Constance would be well known, or at least known, there isn't even a Wikipedia page for her. The only references readily available in the Internet are references to this book. It was a very enjoyable read and I highly recommend it.

For those who follow my book posts, you may remember that I'm following the lead of another blogger who has read every annual best seller published since 1913. "Green Light" was published in 1935. I haven't read every best seller since 1913 to 1935 but most. This is superficially about a surgeon who takes the blame for an error of another surgeon, his mentor, for the death of a patient on the operating table. But deeper than that, it's about a minister, who's believes that the story of history is the story of mankind constantly moving forward. He likens this journey to traveling on a great road with traffic lights. When the light is green everybody must surge forward. It's about the lost literal title I've ever read. This minister asserts influence (perhaps undue influence) on his closest followers, including the good doctor. There's also a complicated love story (between the good doctor and the dead patient's daughter) thrown in for good measure. I find that books from this 20-year period tend to be pretty wordy, with lots of long conversations, and long internal monologues, but mostly enjoyable.

I did this on audio book. You may remember the 1999 movie with Kevin Costner. I saw it but don't't remember much about it. One day, newspaper columnist Theresa, while on vacation to the beach finds, you guessed it, a bottle with a message in it. The message is from Garret to his dead wife. It brings Theresa to tears. If I had been reading the book, I probably would have given up there, but I'll listen to an audio book if the narrator has a pleasant voice and the story isn't completely terrible. Theresa's boss pretty much forces her to write a column on the letter. The response to the column reveals that there are at least two more letters out there. Theresa, who is a divorced mother of a 12-year-boy, is so love-starved that she has to go down to South Carolina to meet this Garret. She falls in love with him, he falls in love with her and the big problem with the book is she never tells him that she's read his letters. So here's a spoiler. He finds out about the letters and, you'll never guess, dumps her. But then he relents and realizes that he really loves Theresa, so he writes one last letter, puts it in a bottle and takes his sailboat out even though a storm is coming. And drowns.

25-year-old Timothy, who still goes by his high school nickname, Moth, is an alcoholic history major working on his doctorate. One day he finds his AA sponsor and Uncle Ed, dead in his office, apparently a suicide. After going on a 5-day bender, he finds the case closed, Ed's death ruled a suicide. Moth doesn't believe this and undertakes his own investigation. The only person he thinks he can trust is his former high school sweetheart, Andrea (who has the incredibly distracting nickname of Andy Candy, which the author calls her through out the book). She's got her own problems, having just had a abortion due to being date raped. They get some help from the prosecutor on the case, who herself is damaged, a cocaine user just barely hanging on to her job. Three damaged people trying to track down a stone cold killer. I've never read Katzenbach and really enjoyed this. Looking at some of hie other books there seems to be some common themes, notably, damaged people being menaced and overcoming their fears.

In order to explain artificial intelligence, Zarkadakis believes we have to understand how the human mind works and how our minds came to be. In order to do this he explores a lot of history. He takes us from the Lascaux prehistoric paintings to the movie "The Matrix"; from the Analytic Engine of Charles Babbage to Turing Machines; from Aristotelian logic, to modern computer logic circuits. This is about 3/2 of the book and very interesting. The last third he presents AI itself and how the approaches have changed over the years, and the current state of research. So what is his conclusion, is true AI possible? His definitive answer is probably.

I suppose that the Weldon book above has made me a bit Batman crazy. This is the first of 21 weekly comic books in the Batman Eternal series. There are 2 more just like this one in my reading pile. One of the things I learned from the Weldon book, is that comic books aren't really published for children anymore. Or maybe today's 10-year-olds are a lot more sophisticated then when I was a 10-year-old comic book reader. This was 468 pages of an extremely complicated story. There may not be anymore than a couple dozen words on a page, but you've got to follow the drawn panels as well, since I guess 2/3 of the story are carried by the art. The story is about former Gotham crime boss, The Roman, come back to town after 5 years to retake his criminal enterprise from The Penguin. That doesn't sound complicated but nearly every superhero and super villain associated with Gotham makes an appearance and there are at least 5, seemingly unrelated threads weaving through the thing.

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