Author: Virginia Woolf
Name: Mrs Dalloway
Much more readable than I expected. If you go along with the text and let the impressions flow over you, it achieves a certain effect that is quite unique.
On the negative side, all of the characters are stupid and uninteresting, and there is no plot, so it's still somewhat of a job to force oneself to finish the book.
Author: Iain Banks
Name: A Song Of Stone
I've had this book for ages but have avoided reading it because of this blurb on the backcover: "His boldest and most ambitious experiment with fiction since The Bridge". And, dear reader, I did not like The Bridge very much.
Once again my prejudice has been shown to be unfounded, as this book is as straightforward as they come. It begins at the beginning, proceeds through the middle, and ends at the end, everything slotting in very neatly.
I like the book, but I can't escape a certain feeling of it not being as "important" as some of his other books. Some of it no doubt has to do with the book's length; there's just not that much space for stuff to happen. Also, the main character is quite passive, which is never good.
Author: Evelyn Waugh
Name: Brideshead Revisited
Much livelier than some other older books I've read, and some of the scenes with Charles and his father are exquisite, but at the end collapses under its ridiculous Catholic message.
Author: James Wilson
Name: The Earth Shall Weep
Informative history of American Indians / Native Americans / whatever-you-want-to-call-them. I still think they should've just massacred the helpless European invaders when they first landed, but hindsight is 20/20 as they say.
I also learned a fascinating bit of trivia: some Indian tribes kept black slaves. I guess that invalidates their claims of moral superiority over the rest of the humanity.
Author: Cory Doctorow
Name: Eastern Standard Tribe
My reading rate has dropped dramatically since I moved to Tokyo, and that is only partly to blame on me having much less free time than I did in Finland. A big factor is also that I simply do not have the selection of books available for reading that I did in Finland, and thus having the choice of trying to read some book I know I will probably not enjoy or spending that time doing something else, well, the end result has been 9 books read in the 9 months since the move...
It's not that I couldn't buy the books I wanted from Amazon or wherever, it's the fact that I have no space to store them and the fact that I do not want to pay the enormous shipping costs involved when in a couple years' time I'll move out of here.
So it's with that mindset that I eventually landed on Doctorow's site and found his books, freely available for download in various formats. I've read some of his short stories before and liked them, so it wasn't a complete dive into the unknown.
Enough preliminaries, about the book itself: It was a fast and enjoyable read, but it's a very short book, not much happens, the characters are painted with the broadest of brushes, and sometimes Doctorow seems to be using his knowledge of technology to try to distract the reader from the fact that the plot makes no sense.
I'll still check out the rest of his stuff, given that it costs nothing, but I hope they turn out to be better.
Name: Koraani (Quran)
I didn't think it possible for a religious text to be worse than the bible, but I was proved wrong.
Both are insane, of course, but at least the bible has a couple of entertaining passages and lots of sex and violence. This one is just 500 pages of boring morality from 1400 years ago.
Author: Robert Whiting
Name: The Samurai Way Of Baseball
Some interesting stuff about how Japanese players train and how some of them adapted to playing in the MLB, but a lot of it is just mindless boring drivel. Maybe if I actually knew baseball I would be more interested in it.
Author: Edwin Lefèvre
Name: Reminiscences of a Stock Operator
The book starts out well by chronicling the protagonist's ascent from a penniless 15-year old to a wealthy Wall Street trader, but somewhere along the way it changes to a dull repetitive cycle of "Lost money, made money".
The bit at the end about how the general public is always the one that loses in the end is just as valid today as it was when the book was written 84 years ago.
Author: Robert E. Howard
Name: The Conquering Sword Of Conan
And thus I've now read everything Howard ever wrote about Conan. It's been an interesting journey certainly, Conan has been much more cerebral than I expected, and I quite like his philosophy on life.
If forced to pick a favorite, "The Black Stranger" would probably be my first choice with its dizzying complexity of warring factions all trapped in an elaborate game with deadly consequences.
Author: Po Bronson
Name: The Nudist On The Late Shift
Interesting stories from the height of the dot-com bubble, but that's pretty much it. Still, worth reading just to get a glimpse of that mystical time and place (I will forever regret being born too late to experience it).
Author: Robert E. Howard
Name: The Bloody Crown Of Conan
Just three stories this time, one of them being the only novel-length Conan story, "The Hour Of The Dragon". It's not really the magnificent epic you'd hope for, more like a series of short stories of Conan's adventures one after the another all bound together by a flimsy overlying theme. It's telling that Xaltotun, his so-called antagonist, only appears at the beginning and end of the book, disappearing completely during the middle, and is completely unaware what Conan is doing to topple him. This leaves the setting free for Conan to embark on his string of mini-adventures.
It's an interesting dilemma that Howard's writing is so good you could read it very fast and be swept along, but at the same time it's so good you want to read it slowly to fully savor it and not miss anything.
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Name: The Razor's Edge
Maugham is obviously a very gifted writer and he can create characters that come to life, and he also has a refreshing lack of sentimentality, but the biggest flaw of the book, and a fatal one at that, is simply that nothing that happens in it grabs your attention. Maybe it's because of the detached viewpoint of the narrator, maybe it's because it's depicting a time so long ago and so different that I can't relate to it at all, but the fact is this book was enough to convince me never to read Maugham again. If this is his masterpiece and I was frankly bored with large parts of it why would I waste my time with inferior works of his?
Author: Ayn Rand
Name: Atlas Shrugged
I looked up my review for The Fountainhead to get some context for this one, and was surprised when it turned out I had read it almost exactly one year ago. Seems like longer...
The Fountainhead, good as it was, was certainly flawed in many ways, so I had high hopes for Atlas Shrugged since people keep calling it Rand's best book, and only its imposing size kept me from reading it sooner.
I have to disagree with those people since I think this is a worse book than The Fountainhead. That one follows one of the ancient themes of storytelling, recounting one man's struggle against enormous opposition to achieve his dreams. In Atlas Shrugged, at first it seems like the same thing on a bigger scale, but it soon descends into passivity as all the main actors disappear one by one and all that is left is Rand's endless speeches describing her philosophy, culminating in the 60-page monologue at the end. I don't think I've ever read anything so slowly as that monologue; it contains some interesting thoughts but they could certainly be described more compactly.
Rand's views on sexuality are even more bizarre in this book than in The Fountainhead. Dagny jumps from one man to the next and then spouts absurd reasons for doing so.
I think I'm done with Rand for now. I might reread certain passages now and then but as a literary author I don't think I have the stomach for her anymore (it's not like she wrote any fiction after this one anyway...).
Author: Winston Groom
Name: Forrest Gump
Doesn't really have much in common with the movie. Forrest himself is entirely different (the one in the book is much more aggressive), Jenny is completely different, Forrest's mom is completely different, the plot shares just a few similarities, etc.
The book is entertaining reading, but the movie will be remembered 50 years from now whereas the book probably won't be.
Author: Robert E. Howard
Name: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian
Truly the best examples of fantasy outside of Tolkien (and Howard writes in an entirely different genre) that I've ever read. I'll save further commentary until I've read the last of the three books.