500 Reviews

Back in 2010, I wrote my first review on LibraryThing. It was for a book that I greatly enjoyed at the time called The Book Thief. I suppose I wrote that review for no better reason than to enthuse about a book that was, being a YA novel, outside of my typical reading zone. It was two years until I wrote another review and this time for a somewhat different reason. By then I’d stumbled upon one of the many groups on LibraryThing. The one that caught and held my attention was the 75 Books Challenge {for that year}. Many of the participants in that group, I’d noticed, posted a short review of each book on their personal thread in the group. And most also added those to the main page for that book in LibraryThing (the latter is by no means necessary; nor, for that matter, is the former). I liked what I saw and wanted to take up the habit as well. The habit stuck.

In the years since then, I’ve joined each year’s 75 Books Challenge. Most (but not all) years I reached that total. And for nearly all of those books I wrote a brief review. My typical review is between two to four paragraphs. I usually give a hint at the content in the first paragraph. And then I comment on the writing itself in what follows. I usually conclude with a recommendation for or against reading that book. Since I’m self-selecting the books I read, for the most part, I tend to read books that I am comfortable encouraging others to take up as well. There have been some notable exceptions but, given the total number of books read, the exceptions are rare. I try to be generous with my reviews but I’m rarely ecstatic. It takes a truly exceptional book to get me to rave about it. And then, of course, my reading tastes may be peculiar or at least highly particular.

When I set out to write these reviews, I hadn’t intended anything more than that. But like most positive habits, there are secondary or tertiary effects that accrue over time. For example, as I age I find that I don’t remember things as easily as I did as a young man. Maybe there are just more things to remember. But one thing I do remember easily, thanks to the review I will have written, is what I thought and felt about a book I’ve read. Indeed, for any of the 500 books I’ve reviewed, a quick glance at my review almost instantly brings the whole book back to life for me. I certainly hadn’t set out to write reviews as mnemonic devices. But I very much value their functioning in that way now.

I’ve also had a lot of fun.

Not every review I write is witty, or dryly ironic, or sly. But every once in a while, I do craft a review that tickles me. And I’ve been delighted to find that some of them have been enjoyed by others on LibraryThing as well. It’s a small pleasure, which is the best kind.

And so I’ll continue with my reviews and more especially with my reading. I’d be happy to discuss any of the books I’ve read. Just give me a moment to refresh my memory by reading the review I wrote when I read it and then fire away.

You can find my 500 (and counting) reviews here.

A Writer’s Life, in passing

Last month, a writer I knew passed away. It was a sadly familiar tale of misdiagnosis, radical and aggressive treatment, apparent respite, then recurrence, treatment, recurrence, and so on. Each treatment seemed more debilitating. Each respite less certain. Throughout this lengthy ordeal, Tracie kept writing.

I didn’t know her well. Or rather, I only knew her well as a writer. We met for the first time in late 2010. I was joining an already established writing group, a group of which she was a member. They had been together for a few years, meeting each month, sharing and critiquing each other’s work. I was fortunate they took me on. Eight years later, we still submit a short portion of what we have been writing recently to the others for comment.

I’ve been going back over the pieces I submitted to the group through the years in order to recall Tracie’s typical comment. She was naturally good-humoured herself and loved writing that raised a chuckle. “Funny!” she would write in the margin. “Too much!” But she also, perhaps due to her career as a family therapist, knew when you were getting to the truth of an experience.

Back when I first joined the group, Tracie was mostly submitting poetry. But once she submitted something entitled, “A Short Story.” That short story grew. And grew. And grew. A novelist was emerging. Later there was another novel, still being written furiously over this last year. And there was also Pecky.

Some time in 2016 we read the first of the Pecky books. Pecky is a talking duck who lives with a family in the suburbs but who has another life as a Hollywood star. “Funny!” It turned out that Pecky was a perfect vehicle for Tracie. She poured her time into the Pecky books, found a wonderful illustrator in Shirley Fowley, and managed the process of production, publication, publicity and distribution. Tracie’s readings at local bookstores were special events, complete with a real life Pecky who accompanied Tracie. Later Pecky would travel to Yellowstone, the Everglades, even Ottawa. “Too much!”

Tracie’s enthusiasm for writing, her generous critiques, her busy full life even through the worst of these past two years — I’ll always remember. She wrote for the love of it. And though I know she did many other things well — therapist, musician, mother — it was as a writer that I knew her. She will be missed.

Tracie Klaehn’s homepage.

 

Reading – a year in review, 2017

2017 was a good year for reading. I discovered new authors whose work I enjoyed: Jenny Erpenbeck, Álvaro Enrique, Zoey Leigh Peterson, Hiromi Kawakami and Lori McNulty. I continued my affection for authors with whom I had already been acquainted: Rachel Cusk, Ben Lerner, George Saunders, Patrick Modiano, Adam Gopnik and Robert Hughes. I also wrote short reviews of each book I read this past year and posted them on LibraryThing, a few of which I re-posted here on this blog. I’m already looking forward to another great year of reading ahead.

Stats from my 2017 reading list:

  •  32 were borrowed from our public library
  •  10 have Canadian authors
  •  10 were chosen due to personal recommendations from friends
  •  2 are by authors who appear more than once on the 2017 list
  •  1 was being reread
  •  0 was read aloud by my wife and me
  •  18 are non-fiction
  •  0 are ebooks

Books read in 2017 (60):

  • Chabon, Michael. Moonglow

  • Erpenbeck, Jenny. Visitation
  • Carter, Angela. Artificial Fire
  • Cusk, Rachel. Transit

  • Thien, Madeleine. Do Not Say We Have Nothing

  • Levy, Deborah. Hot Milk

  • Constantine, David. The Life-Writer
  • Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting

  • Lerner, Ben. The Hatred of Poetry
  • Gretzky, Wayne with McLellan Day, Kirstie. 99 Stories of the Game
  • Groff, Lauren. Arcadia

  • Smith, Ali. Autumn

  • Nguyen, Viet Thanh. The Refugees

  • Grayling, A.C. The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century & the Birth of the Modern Mind

  • Paley, Grace. Just As I Thought

  • Galchen, Rivka. Little Labors
  • Enrigue, Álvaro. Sudden Death
  • Henighan, Stephen. The Path of the Jaguar

  • Li, Yiyun. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

  • Peterson, Zoey Leigh. Next Year, For Sure
  • Joyce, James. Dubliners

  • Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo
  • Fournel, Paul. Dear Reader
  • Wecker, Helene. The Golem and the Jinni
  • McGregor, Jon. Reservoir 13

  • Tóibín, Colm. House of Names
  • Ford, Richard. Between Them: Remembering My Parents

  • Sutherland, John. How to Read a Novel

  • McEwan, Ian. Nutshell

  • Martin, Manjula (editor). Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living

  • McCann, Colum. Letters to a Young Writer

  • Martin, George R.R. Game of Thrones

  • Tyson, Neil de Grasse. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

  • Tallis, Raymond. The Black Mirror: Fragments of an Obituary for Life

  • Modiano, Patrick. In the Café of Lost Youth
  • 
Grossman, David. A Horse Walks into a Bar
  • Martin, George R.R. A Clash of Kings
  • Kawakami, Hiromi. The Nakano Thrift Shop
  • Rovelli, Carlo. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
  • Kawakami, Hiromi. manazuru: a novel

  • Barwin, Gary. Yiddish for Pirates
  • Rosoff, Meg. Jonathan Unleashed

  • Meloy, Maile. Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It

  • Grady, Wayne. Emancipation Day

  • Hardcastle, Kevin. In The Cage

  • Johnson, Trevor and Neill, Hugh. Mathematics: A complete introduction
  • Acheson, David. 1089 and all that: a journey into mathematics
  • Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

  • Gopnik, Adam. At the Stranger’s Gate: Arrivals in New York
  • Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room
  • Smythe, Karen. This Side of Sad
  • St. Aubyn, Edward. Dunbar
  • Cline, Emma. The Girls: a novel

  • Wolitzer, Meg (ed.). The Best American Short Stories 2017

  • Sterne, Laurence. A Sentimental Journey and other writings

  • Erpenbeck, Jenny. The End of Days
  • Weir, Andy. Artemis
  • McNulty, Lori. Life on Mars: stories

  • Hughes, Robert. Goya

 

Producing Open Source Software, 2nd edition, by Karl Fogel

Recently I received a notification from Kickstarter that Karl Fogel has completed his project of revising Producing Open Source Software. Back in 2013 I made a small financial contribution, along with many others, to enable Karl to take some time away from his open technologies consulting business in order to revise and update this much used publication. The first edition was released under a Creative Commons licence back in 2005 and published as “treeware” by O’Reilly a year later. By 2013, the world of free and open source software had evolved. Even more so in the intervening years it has taken to reach the completed second edition.

As with the first edition, Producing Open Source Software is freely available under a Creative Commons licence. You can go to Karl’s site right now and read it. Or you can wait a bit for the print version. I confess to being a bit thrilled to find my name listed there in the acknowledgements along with the many others who donated to the Kickstarter project. I spotted the names of a few old colleagues and friends.

Congratulations to Karl for completing this edition. I look forward to reading it with pleasure.

 

Reading – a year in review, 2016

2016 was a good year for reading. I discovered new authors whose work I enjoyed: Rick Moody, Alexis André, David Szalay, and Rachel Cusk. I continued my affection for authors with whom I had already been acquainted: Colm Tóibín, Tom Drury, Zadie Smith, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Strout, and Kazuo Ishiguro. I also wrote short reviews of each book I read this past year and posted them on LibraryThing, a few of which I re-posted here on this blog. I’m already looking forward to another great year of reading ahead.

Stats from my 2016 reading list:

  • 24 were borrowed from our public library
  • 11 have Canadian authors
  • 22 were chosen due to personal recommendations from friends
  • 4 are by authors who appear more than once on the 2016 list
  • 1 was being reread
  • 0 was read aloud by my wife and me
  • 13 are non-fiction
  • 0 are ebooks

Books read in 2016 (69):

  • Drury, Tom. The Driftless Area
  • Moran, Caitlin. How to Build a Girl
  • Cameron, Claire. The Bear
  • Grosz, Stephen. The Examined Life
  • Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace
  • Smith, Zadie. NW
  • Moody, Rick. Hotels of North America
  • Brautigan, Richard. Trout Fishing in America
  • St. Aubyn, Edward. The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk, At Last
  • Richtel, Matt. A Deadly Wandering
  • Alexis, André. Fifteen Dogs
  • Evison, Jonathan. This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
  • Casey, John. Beyond the First Draft: The Art of Fiction
  • Coetzee, J.M. and Kurtz, Arabella. The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy
  • Keret, Etgar. The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God and other stories
  • Christie, Michael. If I Fall, If I Die
  • Modiano, Patrick. After the Circus
  • Tóibín, Colm. The Master
  • Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy
  • Marcus, Ben. The Age of Wire and String
  • Alexis, André. Childhood
  • Cather, Willa. A Lost Lady
  • Alexis, André. Despair and other stories
  • Oyeyemi, Helen. What is not yours is not yours: stories
  • Wilson, Kevin. The Family Fang
  • Scott, A.O. Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth
  • Doerr, Anthony. All The Light We Cannot See
  • Strout, Elizabeth. My Name Is Lucy Barton
  • Beatty, Paul. The Sellout
  • Modiano, Patrick. The Occupation Trilogy: La Place de l’Étoile, The Night Watch, and Ring Roads
  • Moody, Rick. The Ice Storm
  • Millet, Lydia. Mermaids in Paradise
  • Gardner, Leonard. Fat City
  • Petersen, Alice. Worldly Goods: stories
  • Eugenides, Jeffrey. The Virgin Suicides
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant
  • Wolf, Maryanne. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain
  • Szalay, David. All That Man Is
  • Currie Jr., Ron. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles: a novel
  • Barnes, Julian. nothing to be frightened of
  • Royle, Nicholas (Ed.) Best British Short Stories 2016
  • Bryson, Bill. The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island
  • Antrim, Donald. The Emerald Light in the Air: stories
  • Kawakami, Hiromi. Strange Weather in Tokyo
  • Coe, Jonathan. Number 11
  • McKenzie, Elizabeth. The Portable Veblen
  • Goncharov, Ivan. Oblomov
  • Alexis, André. The Hidden Keys
  • Bell, James Scott. Revision and Self-Editing
  • Link, Kelly. Get in Trouble
  • Cayley, Kate (compiler), Francis, Brian (compiler), Thien, Madeleine (compiler). The Journey Prize Stories 28
  • Beukes, Lauren. Broken Monsters
  • Diaz, Junot (ed.). The Best American Short Stories 2016
  • Barrett, Andrea, and Turchi, Peter (editors). A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their Craft
  • Winterson, Jeanette. The Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold
  • Cusk, Rachel. Outline
  • Haslett, Adam. Imagine Me Gone
  • Nabokov, Vladimir. Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited
  • Smith, Ali. Public library and other stories
  • McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian
  • Smith, Zadie. On Beauty
  • Edugyan, Esi. Half-Blood Blues
  • Svevo, Italo. Zeno’s Conscience
  • Smith, Zadie. Swing Time
  • Atwood, Margaret. Hag-Seed
  • Tesdell, Diana Secker (ed.). New York Stories
  • Adler, Renata. Speedboat
  • Tóibín, Colm. On Elizabeth Bishop
  • Luiselli, Valeria. Faces in the Crowd