Mid-year book update

As we’re halfway through the year already and I seem to have been consuming books at an even greater pace now that I’ve eased back on reviewing, here’s some thoughts on what’s impressed me in this year’s consumption. I have noticed that escapism seems to be a theme this year. I’ve read nearly as many SF books in the first half of this year (13) than all of last year (17) and have two in process.

Favorite nonfiction work: I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, Crystal Zevon. As some have said, this is a Roshomon version of the music biography. Borrowing extensively from Zevon’s own diaries and note-books, his ex-wife also interviews dozens of fellow musicians, family members, friends, lovers and others to provide a complete perspective on his music and private life.

Favorite novel (non-SF): Once in a Promised Land, Laila Halaby. In a story detailing how the lives of a couple born in Jordan fall apart while working and residing in Tucson, Ariz., Halaby explores a variety of relevant themessocial commentary. While much of the attention has been generated by the exploration of the impact of 9/11 on an Arab man living in the U.S., there is equally strong exploration of cultural approaches toward love and marriage, life as an immigrant in America and how one or two events can change people’s lives forever. Yet with each theme, Halaby casts the social commentary in an atomosphere flavored with Arab legends and stories.

Favorite SF novel: I’m going to cop out here and pick two: Brasyl by Ian McDonald and Blindsight by Peter Watts. What they have in common is that they are the type of SF that gives you so much to think about and don’t limit themselves to one motif or idea. Equally important, what you think about ranges from science to ethics to who we are and they are so well written you are enthralled by the story, too. Blindsight is a finalist for this year’s Hugo Award for best novel and I wager Brasyl will be one of the finalists next year.

Favorite anthology: Another cop out. This category is here just because I loved The SFWA European Hall of Fame so much. Normally, I’m not much for anthologies or compilations. This collection of SF by current authors throughout the European continent was so top-notch I hated to put it down and couldn’t wait to pick up again

Biggest disappointment/Most overrated: The Castle in the Forest, Norman Mailer. Maybe it takes big name authors to create big time disappointment. But the result of combining Norman Mailer and the concept of writing about the demon responsible for supervising Adolf Hitler during his childhood. The book makes both itself and the evil it is trying to explore almost banal.

I’m too old to die young
And too young to die now

“Bed of Coals,” Warren Zevon, Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School

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