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Based on the fact that this topic has over 1.5 million views, everyone's answer should be "What have you been reading recently?"

The topic is dead! Long live the topic!   —Alorael, who will throw in The Ringmaster's Daughter, a relatively normal and therefore still quite unusual novel by Jostein Gaarder. Unlike Sophie's Wor

It was in one of the introductions for a book. Part of the problem was he had a few children and was trying to save for their future educations.   The figure I've seen is that a basic paper back

Maybe, but unless it recontextualizes everything Kvothe has done he's still the unusually powerful, preternaturally smart musician and scholar extraordinaire. Oh, and he's from a downtrodden race! Again, part of the joy is watching all his wits and talents fail to fully rescue him from penury or his constant conflicts with Ambrose.

 

—Alorael, who notes that the end of His Dark Materials handles precocious, unearned talent with aplomb. And The Prince of Nothing handles both immense magical power (by divorcing it from real power or prestige) and immediate mastery of everything (by putting in the hands of a chilling, inhuman "protagonist") very well.

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I completely disagree. Kvothe is really not omni-competent, and definitely not a Mary Sue. I always found his skills to be extreme but plausible, especially since they don't always work to get him out of trouble. And he's not given the right to do whatever he likes and not face consequences for it. I really can't tell where you guys are getting this.

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Doesn't sound like we read the same books. If somebody asked me what this 'Mary Sue' term means, I'd answer, "Kvothe." Well, actually, of course I wouldn't, because how do you really pronounce that name? Are you sure? But I'd try to refer to him. I don't really mean that he's as bad as actual fanfic Mary Sues, of course. I like these books and agree that their qualities well outweigh their flaws, and even their flaws aren't exactly bad things, but good things that seem to cloy a bit when they keep going on. But if you want to explain what issues are at stake, in making an extremely talented protagonist, the Kingkiller Chronicles are the best published example I know.

 

I wonder if another part of Kvothe's problem is this: this series has run two long books already, and the main actual bad guys have hardly even appeared. When they've appeared, so briefly, they haven't done anything that makes any sense. Now, in itself, this is surprisingly effective. The Chandrian work as Sauron plus conspiracy theory. But if we had them popping up a bit more, and doing tremendous things, then I think we'd be measuring Kvothe more against them, instead of against the ordinary extras around him, and finding him less oversized.

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I completely disagree. Kvothe is really not omni-competent, and definitely not a Mary Sue. I always found his skills to be extreme but plausible, especially since they don't always work to get him out of trouble. And he's not given the right to do whatever he likes and not face consequences for it. I really can't tell where you guys are getting this.

He seems to be a total Mary Sue to me:

Tragic past - check. Incredibly skilled at a range of things - check. People who dislike him are just assholes who hate how awesome he is - check. Met a sex goddess who was totally amazed at how great he was at sex - check.

 

Edit for crosspost: And yeah, I want more action from the Chandrians. There's these great antagonists, who are more or less ignored in favour of repeating the "oh no I need more money" plot. Hopefully that'll be fixed in the third book.

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Met a sex goddess who was totally amazed at how great he was at sex - check.

 

I actually got to that scene a week ago and just kind of gave up. I fully intend to finish the books as I do like them overall despite my griping (they really do have an awesome magical system, which is maybe the books single biggest strength)....but the fairy sex was kind of silly.

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Wait until you get to the Adem parts. It would be nicer if Kvothe got cut down to size by people who weren't even bigger Mary Sues.

 

(Adem teacher: "Men become violent and destructive because they don't get enough nookie. And truth is purely relative. Say, Kvothe, would you like to have sex?")

 

Edit: I'll also admit I liked Kvothe better when he was a virgin and didn't know how to fight. And when he wasn't making snide remarks comparing woman to musical instruments.

 

A Wizard of Earthsea is about a young wizard in school, at least in large part, but it's also very different in tone and not really for young adults. (Also of note: central to the plot is a colossal screw-up by the protagonist, whose sin is yet again hubris.)

 

Hubris is a very human failing, I think... There's a good reason it's popular for heroes.

 

And yes, I loved the Earthsea trilogy. Especially the Nameless Ones. I have fond memories of the Nameless Ones scaring the stuffing out of me when I was a kid.

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Oh yeah, what I'm reading.

 

Up Jim River, Michael Flynn: found at a dollar store. Makes me think of a cross between Frank Herbert and James Joyce, and speaking of Mary Sues (and characters who aren't), the protagonist is an alcoholic veteran with seven or eight personalities. I'm not that far along yet, so I'm fervently hoping that Flynn can pull this thing off.

 

Practical C++ Programming, Steve Oualline: restarting from the chapter on preprocessor macros. This time I plan to actually do all the excercises. Maybe I'll learn something, who knows...

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The Other Insect Societies (reread): The information is good (and fascinating), but I don't know how I missed the mediocre writing and weird organization the first time around. Totally worth the read (and reread), but a little disappointing.

 

Superdove: It's thought-provoking and the writing is superb, but it's lacking. The author mostly refuses to draw conclusions, and there's no information on things like feral pigeon health, architectural damage, the perspectives of "pigeon haters," or a comparison with the Eurasian collared dove. Also, the cover art is hideous.

 

Dikiyoba.

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Over halfway finished with A Memory of Light, and for the "final showdown" book in the series, I'm a little surprised that a little humor is still present here and there, like when a certain protagonist and another certain protagonist have a bragging match, or how a certain protagonist remarks on how a certain guardian and a certain captain of a certain group of guards could go at a staring contest for days straight.

 

Oh yes, and surprise plot twist!

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Stendahl liked screw-ups as his central characters, who just blunder through life.

I agree about the lack of plot in Anathem, though.

Universities as places where research does not take place: very interesting comment. I think that the research would have to be a plot driver if it were taking place, and mostly the change in knowledge is incremental and evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

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Ah, Steven Erickson. Always fun to have absolutely no clue what's going on in his gigantic mazework of events.

 

Personally he lost me entirely on book 4 (though mostly due to lack of sympathy for a major character). IMO book 2 (Deadhouse Gates) was his best and most coherent, and had his most interesting characters and concepts. It also helped that it stood on its own a bit.

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I have finished Towers of Midnight, and am currently on A Memory of Light, both by Robert Jordan.

 

"Wait," I heard you say, "I remember Dintiradan writing recaps for those a long time ago." (I have good ears, you see.) "It's such a shame the board change mangled those posts, because now I can't read them." Well, worry no more, my children, I have copied those reviews to my website.

 

"Wait a second, Dintiradan," I hear you say again (I have very good ears). "Weren't you going to finish those recaps?" Patience, my children. Patience.

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Gardens of the Moon, also finishing the Hunger Games series. The last book is better than I expected it to be so far, which is nice.

 

I read the first Hunger Games and gave up on the series. It was disappointing and slightly infuriating how it pulled every single one of its punches. It presents the protagonist with a difficult moral dilemma -and then magically resolves it time and again with a series of coincidences and deus ex machinas.

 

I know it's a young adult novel, so I wasn't expecting "Battle Royale," but it was still really disappointing how clean the distinction between villains and heros was and how the protagonist is completely absolved of ever having to make hard decisions or get her hands dirty. And YA novels don't have to be so bloodless. The His Dark Materials novels were written for an even young audience, but even they were much more....thorny....than the Hunger Games.

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Nice to see someone else reading the same series I am! Anywho, I finished reading A Memory of Light, and I have to say that it became quite the tear jerker near the end. Sadly, the series is over now... Might have to reread the series soon. Also, in unrelated news, I can't seem to use the enter key to start new paragraphs on the forums with my main computer... Strange.

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I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov ​by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I have a feeling it will take a while.

 

Still reading Karamazov, and it astounds me how I've read so much but still haven't gone far, in terms of page numbers out of the total or in terms of plot action. With so much exposition and background, though, I'm fine with it. Anyway, I've been reading other books for class which I have finished. The first is E.P. Thompson's Making of the English working class which focuses on the development of class identity in a positive sense, rather than a more passive and inactive class. The major element I chose to analyze through Thompson's book was the creation of a sense of agency in the working class in the time period (~pre-American Revolution - ~1840's).

 

Having finished this decidedly Marxist perspective, I'm moving on to one of my favorite theorists, an eminent and seminal postmodernist - Michel Foucault. His work, Discipline and Punish, is what I've just started. I'll post my reaction when I finish.

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I've found Foucault unbearable to read. Some of it is from the translation barrier, I think, but I also suspect that in his long-windedness a few good ideas are buried in mountains of prose, much of which doesn't say anything at all.

 

—Alorael, who has read a friend's first novel. To his complete and utter astonishment it was actually an excellent dystopian future piece. He may have to plug it, violating the non-solicitation clause of the CoC, if it ever makes it to publication.

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Foucault's easiest if you start with "History of Sexuality Vol 1." You don't have to read the whole thing, just the first section or so just to get the basic idea of how he conceives of power (which is kind of key to understanding his style of thinking. Once you get his idea of the the repressive hypothesis down and its relationship to power, it's much easier to follow the rest of his writing). His short essay "The Subject and Power" is a good place to start too as it's short and fairly succinct (it's one of the later things he wrote before he died and he kind of sums up where all of his writing had been leading him in the first 2 pages, which is really helpful and much more direct than he usually is).

 

And if you want to have lots of fun, I'd recommend reading "History of Madness" along with Derrida's critique of it, "Cogito and the History of Madness." "History of Madness" is the first thing he ever wrote so it's way more relaxed than his later stuff just because he's not really trying to lay out any sort of grand system or anything as much as he's just explicating different interpretations of madness throughout history. It reads more like literary criticism than philosophy. Plus, the Derrida essay is awesome (in fact, if you want the short version, just read the opening section of "History of Madness" to get the basic idea of his concept of an archaeology of silence, and then skip to Derrida. It's worth it, I think, as "Cogito and the History of Madness" is one of my favorite shorter pieces of philosophy ever. I mean, I don't love Derrida as a philosopher all the time, but I think he can be a stylistically brilliant writer when he really wants to. He kind of has a bit of a mystical bent to him, which has always appealed to me. As a philosopher he's essentially just a secular negative theologian so his best writing often has a sort of, almost manic, "religious fervor" to it, even though it's entirely secular.

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This isn't my first time reading Foucault, necessarily. I've read plenty of secondary sources on his writing and his theories about biopolitics and biopower. I've also read a few of his lectures, quite enjoying them, especially "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History". Aside from Derrida, I'd recommend Giorgio Agamben's Homo Sacer as a good text for anyone interested in Foucauldian thought.

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Putting down the Michael Flynn novel for now. He writes well, but it's slow going... And I just bought a copy of Transition (Iain M. Banks), so I'll probably be otherwise occupied for a while.

 

On a related note, I found Flynn's blog today, and was disappointed to discover how much of it was Chesterton quotes.

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Read Jordan/Sanderson - The Gathering Storm when it came out, but it was so much I had forgotten, so I started a reread of the series. Yesterday I finally started on Towers of Midnight. Yes I'm a slow reader :p Allthough I've read quite a bit of other stuff inbetween. Getting close to finish the series I started reading in 1999! What a journey! :D

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I'm going to sit down with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, because, uh...I've never actually read them before. :o

 

I recently found out my copies of The Lord of the Rings - I'd read them every summer. but stopped a good few years ago and stored them at a relatives. I think I know what I'm reading next.

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I prefer Grapes of Wrath to most of Steinbeck's other work. I am also a proponent of his short stories, and enjoyed East of Eden up to a certain point- then it started to creep me out on a Cormac McCarthy level and I ditched it.

 

I just finished the first book of the Coldfire trilogy, which I don't think I'll pursue further. So far, "Cold Mountain" is treating me very well, as is "Mink River", although the latter is one of those books that I feel like spreading out over months rather than devouring all at once.

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I prefer Grapes of Wrath to most of Steinbeck's other work. I am also a proponent of his short stories, and enjoyed East of Eden up to a certain point- then it started to creep me out on a Cormac McCarthy level and I ditched it.

 

I've read some of Steinbeck's short stories and novellas (e.g. The Pearl, a pretty good one though not my favorite) but East of Eden is the only book I've read of his. That said, I liked it quite a lot; what have you got against it that creeped you out so much you had to put it down?

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I think Cathy Ames seemed a bit too real to me at the time I tried to read it.

 

Fair enough. Her character is quite powerful in that she's evil in a powerful way, but in a wholly human way as well. That's one of the things I liked about the book so much, to be honest, but I can see how it'd be off-putting.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Grapes of Wrath has a really memorable ending. The movie didn't touch it, but I saw an opera adaptation of it a few years ago that kept the book's ending, which was nice as the final scene of the book is kind of beautiful/sad/but-also-slightly-optimistic-in-a-perverse-way and more or less the perfect way for the story to go out.

 

But yeah, I'd recommend "Grapes of Wrath" over "Of Mice and Men." I haven't read "East of Eden," though.

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I haven't read "East of Eden," though.

 

Thou mayest, if you so choose.

 

I just finished a short period piece, And the hippos were boiled in their tanks co-authored by Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, about the murder of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr. The novel is pretty forgettable, although not unenjoyable. If it weren't written by two of the greats of the Beat Generation, I wouldn't give it a second thought. As it is, it tells a fairly interesting story and simultaneously serves as a reference for the development of both authors' writing styles.

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Just as I prepared to finallly get around to reading Look to Windward[/url] I found out that Iain Banks has died. And fairly young, too. With his prodigious output the world has lost dozens of wonderful novels.

 

—Alorael, who hopes that he's virtually reconstituted in a post-scarcity utopian future and treated well, just as he would want to be. Heaven is for the insufficiently imaginative.

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Finished "Cold Mountain" last week and loved it. I'd love recommendations in a similar vein.

 

Starting "Love in the Time of Cholera" with a sort of unofficial book club of my old classmates. Ya'll are welcome to get in on that action.

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"Love in the Time of Cholera" is good. It's not Marquez's best, but it's worth reading if you haven't.

 

"100 Years of Solitude" really is brilliant. It's one of those rare books that I think everyone needs to read once before they die. And his most underrated is "The General In His Labyrinth," which is also worth reading.

 

I'm kind of sick to death of magical realism just because for a period in the late 1990s, early 2000s, it seemed like every single novel had to have at least a dash of magical realism....but I don't blame Marquez for that (who I really do like).

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100 Years of Solitude ranks as one of my favorite books. It set me off on a kick- with Borges and Saramago* taking top prizes.

 

* Okay, so he's Portugese. There's still a thread of similarity there.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Spider Silk : Evolution and 400 Million years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating by Leslie Brunetta and Catherine L. Craig: Excellent book for the layperson, fairly good but too basic for anyone who already understands evolutionary principles, stupid title. I think Craig's Spiderwebs and Silk is the same information aimed at an expert audience. The combination of two authors, one a writer and the other a specialist, works well here. It has one of the best explanations of natural selection I've seen, and a better-than-average explanation of genetic mutations. But it stays tightly focused on the evolution of the spider, rather than spiders' natural history. Probably should be titled Spider Silk: 400 Million Years of Evolution to make its evolution-only focus more obvious.

 

(A dozen middling books later...)

 

A Gap in Nature by Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten: It's a rather sad read, since it deals entirely with human-caused extinctions (well, I lie a bit, since two of the 100-odd extinctions in the book were caused entirely by natural disasters). The writing is mediocre and sloppy, but there isn't a great deal of text, so that doesn't get in the way too much. The information is well organized and the criteria for included vs. excluded species is clear. The art is what really makes the book shine, though. Each painting is gorgeous, extremely detailed, appears to be highly accurate, compelling, and did I mention that they're really pretty?

 

Dikiyoba.

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Wicked Bronze Ambition by Glen Cook has private investigator Garrett back for another adventure in a book that's about 50% longer than usual. The writing has improved with plenty more well crafted lines:

 

"The pay had been lousy lately, and being self-employed, I had me a really cheap-ass boss."

"Idiots! Karenta's richest resource is stupidity."

 

The series has been around for over twenty years and to catch some of the references you need to have read it all the way back to the first book, Sweet Silver Blues, however you still can understand what is happening. Garrett is in trouble with the law, his in-laws, who decide they need his expertise. Send Garrett to blunder around and draw the attention of the villains, then catch them as they try to kill him. At least he has lots of friends to keep him alive.

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