Category archives: Books

Finnikin of the Rock

by July 15, 2010 in Books, Fantasy, Not Recommended

Finnikin of the Rock

We interrupt your regularly scheduled episode of "Talk About How Long The Tale of Genjii Is" to bring you this post on Finnikin of the Rock. (I actually finished this a few weeks ago, and just didn't get around to writing about it.)

I'll admit that I'm a sucker for a good story.  The Hunger Games isn't the most sophisticated piece of literature, but it was a lot of fun to read, and it does contain quality writing.  A good story, however, isn't enough to make me overlook major flaws in a novel.

You may not have seen this coming but, in spite of its promising plot, Finnikin of the Rock has far too many flaws for me to overlook.  Finnikin, the son of the captain of the guard, is from Lumatere.  Ten years ago, however, his homeland was cursed, and since then no one has been able to cross its boundaries, either in or out.

Like I said, this is definitely a promising story.  Unfortunately, between a lack of consistency in the geography of the world, and flat, boring characters there isn't much else to like about this book.

Speaking of boring characters, why can't any of them communicate like normal human beings?  Why do they always have to jump to conclusions, and flee from each other at the slightest (assumed) offense?  The School Library Journal review on calls Finnikin and Evanjalin's relationship "intensely emotional".  I think a better description is "annoyingly unrealistic" or "frustratingly devoid of reason".  It's not a good sign when even The Tale of Genji, in which characters purposefully obfuscate their language by speaking in ancient Chinese poetry, has more open communication.

Suffice it to say, I don't recommend Finnikin of the Rock.  If you could consider the plot apart from the characters, no doubt you would be able to find some moments to enjoy, but those pesky characters just keep getting in the way.

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First Line: Tale of Genji

by July 9, 2010 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Recommended

Let's jump right into it:

"In a certain reign (whose can it have been?) someone of no very great rank, among all His Majesty's Consorts and Intimates, enjoyed exceptional favor" (1).

This immediately reminded me of the opening line for Don Quixote, another lengthy, historic tale.  Just as Cervantes's claim that he can't remember quite where in La Mancha Don Quixote was from is brimming with irony, Genji's introduction strikes me as slightly ironic as well.  It may not be immediately evident (unless you consider just how long the book is), but Genji is rife with details about ancient Japanese court lifestyle.  Considering that, there must be some intentional humor in the narrator's claim that she can't quite remember whose reign it was.

Yet, at the same time, we must also consider the fact that this is a female author telling us about the behavior of an Emperor in somewhat unflattering terms.  Periodically throughout the book the narrator will address the reader directly, making claims about how it would not be appropriate of someone of her rank to reveal too much about what happened between these more noble characters.  This could simply be the first example of the narrator …

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Tale of Genji - Update 1

by July 6, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

I feel like I've been reading The Tale of Genji nonstop since I started last weekend.  Even so, though, I've still hardly made a dent in this massive book:

Don't get me wrong, though, it's really quite enjoyable.  As the characters were being introduced in the first few chapters it felt more like a collection of isolated short stories, but at this point things are coming together in a much more cohesive manner.  Additionally, the discussions happening over at the Summer of Genji blog are entertaining and informative.  To make things even more interesting, the translator of this edition of the book (Royall Tyler) has joined in on the conversation. I'd post more, but I need to get back to reading if I'm going to finish this book any time soon.

Oh, on a completely unrelated tangent, I implemented a new comment security feature to help prevent all the spam I've been getting recently.  If for some reason you are unable to successfully post a comment, please send me an email at scott [at] somesmart [dot] com.

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Cringe Worthy Covers: Ender's Game

by June 30, 2010 in Books, Covers, Science Fiction

Nathan's recent rant has inspired me to start a new semi-regular feature on the blog. It won't be "every Wednesday", but I'll try to do it about once a week. Depending, of course, on how frequently I can find good examples of bad book covers. The idea here is simple - even the best books can have the most terrible cover art, and any publisher who commits such a crime deserves to be ridiculed.

Let's start things off with one of my all-time favorite novels: Ender's Game.  I was originally planning on elaborating more on the various covers, but I realized that's unnecessary.  These are going to be awful, and you don't need me to convince you of that fact. So here we go.

Good idea:

Bad Idea:

Way to go publisher!  You made cover art so bad I can't even find this edition of the book for sale on Amazon.  High five!

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Summer of Genji

by June 28, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

Summer of Genji

I've had a copy of The Tale of Genji on my bookshelf for several years now.  It's status as the world's first novel (though that term may be a tad anachronistic) intrigued me, but it's size and scope (1120 pages/11th Century Japan) was intimidating.  Last week, however, I discovered the Summer of Genji - a group of readers who will be spending between now and August 30 reading and discussing The Tale of Genji.  With this discovery, I've decided it's finally time to get started on this massive epic.

Why am I making such a big deal out of this?  Well, for starters, it's a great idea to read a book like this online because, honestly, how else are you ever going to get a group of people together who are willing to read it? Plus, the whole Summer of Genji project is still in its infancy, and so there's time for you to join in as well.

Second, it's a massive book, which may result in a reduction in the number of blog posts, or at least an increase in the number of posts that aren't actually about books I've finished reading.  I will be reading …

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The Well at the World’s End Volume II

by June 22, 2010 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

The Well at the World’s End Volume II

Considering The Well at the World's End was split into two volumes arbitrarily, it's not worth reiterating what I said in my post on Volume I.  No time passes between the volumes, and the quest for the Well picks up right where it left off.  What is worth mentioning, however, is how great the book continues to be.

Without the surprise of the language, or the need to grow accustomed to it, I had a great time reading Volume II.  Unfortunately, there's really no good way for me to explain what exactly I liked so much without spoiling specific moments.  Of course the experience of reading it would still be great, even if you knew everything that happens, but that's no reason to spoil such a great tale.

If, as I hope is the case, I've convinced you that you should read this book, but you don't have a friend or family member you can borrow it from, I have some great news.  You can actually download The Well at the World's End for free thanks to Project Gutenberg.  You can even put it onto your iPhone, iPad, Kindle or any other eReader that will accept ePub files. …

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Goose Girl (Audio)

by June 21, 2010 in Audio Books, Books, Fantasy, Recommended

Goose Girl (Audio)

Goose Girl is not the type of book that would normally catch my eye.  However, after reading Christy's review of the sequel I figured it would be worth requesting from the library and listening to it when I got the chance.  I had it for a few weeks and, honestly, I didn't have a plan to start it anytime soon until I saw Erin's claim that Shannon Hale "has not written a bad book".

Convoluted story of why I started reading it aside, I'm really glad that I did.  Goose Girl seems pretty straight forward at first - a crowned princess of a small kingdom is, unbeknownst to her, about to be sent off to marry the prince of a distant kingdom.  As the story progressed, though, I was consistently impressed both with the number of times the plot surprised me and with how well-realized the world and characters were.

True, I've only read one book by Shannon Hale now, but I can see why Erin would say she hasn't written a bad book.  In addition to a consistent, deep world full of entertaining characters, Goose Girl is also filled with some beautiful writing.  Even the first line ("She was …

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by June 11, 2010 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction


Instead of listening to audio books during my daily commute, I have recently been enjoying lectures from The Great Courses.  These cover all types of subjects, from classical mythology, to Einstein's theory of relativity.  The one I just finished, however, was a 12 lecture series on the life and writings of C.S. Lewis.  I complimented this listening experience by reading Perelandra, the second book in Lewis's classic Space Trilogy.

I've read Perelandra before, as well as a number of Lewis's other works, but by listening to lectures discussing major themes of his work in general, while simultaneously reading a single work in depth, I was able to enjoy it at a much deeper level.  I encourage anyone with the time or opportunity to do something similar.

As for the book itself, Perelandra follows Ransom (a professor of philology) on another interstellar adventure - this time to Venus (or Perelandra).  While there, he becomes involved in Perelandra's own Edenic struggle to resist temptation.

I loved reading Perelandra. Lewis's ability to make the temptation believable, and compelling, is extremely impressive.  In fact, the dialogue of this book is far more exciting than the "action" moments.   Full of fascinating ideas, Perelandra …

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Stats at 50

by June 8, 2010 in Books

Now that the database officially has 50 books posted, I thought it would be fun to throw together some stats to analyze my reading habits for the last 18 months.  I am also using this post as an opportunity to add the new Charts page to the wordpress blog.  It's basically just the old charts page, but edited and formatted for the main blog.

Note: all the stats below, as well as those on the charts page, are dynamically updated from the database, so regardless of when you read this, know that the information is up to date.

One of the first things that jumps to my mind when I think about my habits since December of 2008 is that I've been reading non-stop. But how much have I really been reading? Fortunately, I made an agreement with myself not to read two books at the same time, so by determining the number of days in each month that fall outside of the start and stop dates of a particular read, we can calculate this. The table below shows the breakdown, per month, since I started the book database.

-The stats are temporarily disabled as I transition to the …

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The Ringworld Engineers

by June 7, 2010 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction

It was probably 5 years ago that I read Ringworld - the tale of a group of 3 adventurers who are tempted to travel to beyond the known universe to explore a giant Ringworld in search of treasure and fame.  Unfortunately, that's about all I remembered about the first book, and so when I was looking to read the sequel last week, I decided to check Wikipedia for the details I could not recall.  To my great disappointment, Wikipedia had only an extended, spoiler free summary.  Yet another reason I wish I had started my book database years earlier!

Despite my failed memory and lack of information online, I went ahead and read The Ringworld Engineers.  In this sequel, Louis Wu and Chmee return, against their will, to the Ringworld in search of a mysterious object.  Louis and Chmee, however, spend most of their time looking for freedom from their paranoid Puppeteer captor.

Ultimately, not remembering the details of the first book was a minor point.  I wish I had, but only because I think it would have added depth to the development of Chmee and Louis Wu as characters.  As it was, I could only watch them grow …

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