Cryptonomicon

NealĀ  Stephenson is smarter than I am. By a long shot. I really deserve a medal for finishing this book. Not because the book was bad; not at all. But because it was so math and computer science heavy that I was really lost at times. I still enjoyed the book, though, and gave it 4 stars.

For the 2017 book challenge, I had to read an espionage thriller. And Goodreads told me this book was along those lines. And it was, but not wholly. But let me tell ya, I’m counting it! Part of the plot dealt with WWII and the Enigma code, which obviously works. The story was told from a variety of perspectives and time periods. During WWII, we have Laurence Waterhouse, who is a codebreaker, Bobby Shaftoe, who is a Marine, and Goto Dengo, who is a Japanese military man. In present day (book was published in 2002, so present day enough) we have Randy Waterhouse, Laurence’s grandson, and Amy Shaftoe, (I’m going to leave her lineage a mystery because it isn’t fully revealed at first, but yes, the last name is important) in the Philippines trying to set up some Internet whatnots.

I don’t do math. I have to count on my fingers. So, the math in this book is way WAY more than I can even comprehend. But that’s okay. The story is interesting enough to keep my attention, but I imagine a math/computer person would be in heaven with this book. There was a lot of logic puzzle solving as well. At 900+ pages, I feel like it could have been condensed without missing a lot, but overall I still enjoyed the book.

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The Underground Railroad

Sometimes simplicity is better than complexity. And this book is a perfect example of this idea. Last year, I read two books by Toni Morrison. She is second to none, honestly. However, her writing is so dense that it takes a long time to get through her books. And this isn’t a bad thing at all. I am in awe of her command of the written word. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is another author that comes to mind for being complex. The language is meant to be savored.

But there are times when language distracts from the purity of the story, so simple is better. And I say this with tremendous respect and appreciation for the simplicity because sometimes the story itself needs to shine. This is what I kept thinking while reading The Underground Railroad. And it’s not that the author, Colson Whitehead, isn’t an amazing writer, because he absolutely is. But the language was interesting, but reigned in and appropriate, which allowed for the characters and plot to be the main focus. Sometimes less is better.

The story starts with Cora living as a slave on the Randall plantation. Quickly, her friend Caesar asks her to escape with him, knowing full well that if they are caught their punishment will be horrific. However, they take the risk and run for the Underground Railroad. Escaped slaves were often hunted down by slave catchers, and this book explores that. A man named Ridgeway has made it his mission to find them. Cora has a variety of life experiences, getting tastes of freedom then getting them ripped away. She learns who she can trust simply by the look in their eyes and their posture. No matter what her situation, she tries to find the best in it, always looking behind her, though.

This book doesn’t mince words when it comes to the terrible life most slaves led. Their punishments are beyond harsh. Their lives reduced to a simple existence. This is why the language Whitehead uses is so important. This story is too important to tell with clever turns of phrase and elaborate, unnecessary details. Cora’s life and soul jumps off the page from the moment we meet her. As hard as this book is to stomach, it was beautifully written and absolutely worth reading.

S.

For the 2017 book challenge, I had to read a book from a genre I had never heard of. I went to wikipedia and just started with A, browsing a variety of genres. I made it to E before anything stood out: ergodic literature. Say what? Once I clicked on the link, I learned that “In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text.” So, it’s not about a book being particularly hard to understand, but the actual process of getting to the text is difficult. Then, I scrolled down to the texts that fall into this category and I realized I had one on my shelf that I’ve been meaning to read for years: S.

I will say this now. I love JJ Abrams and I love LOST. It’s not the best show of all time, not even close. But it was interesting from an Easter Egg stand point. I loved the multiple layers that were woven into every episode. And, at least the show kept us on our toes. After every episode, I would go to a few sites and dig through what the other viewers found. I loved reading what all others found in the hidden messages. If I had the time, this book would pose the same interest and challenges.

S. is a story within a story. The book is The Ship of Theseus written by a fictitious author named Straka. And within this book are annotations from two college students, Jen and Eric. They don’t know each other, but meet through their conversations in and about the book. And as they get to know each other, they reveal information about themselves, making their notes personal, as well as about the book’s messages. SoT is shrouded in mysteries, from the author’s “death” to the hidden codes in the footnotes. Also included in the book are inserts that Jen and Eric share with each other. Those inserts include postcards, pictures, drawings, maps, etc. It’s probably beneficial to buy your own copy of this book. It will take multiple readings to fully understand, and I don’t think an ebook would do it any justice at all. Between the book, the annotations, and the inserts, this book falls under the ergodic genre because it is truly an interactive, challenging reading experience.

I loved this book. SoT isn’t the best book ever written, but that’s not the point. It’s a great story, and I was genuinely invested in it (I can’t even begin to explain the plot….it’s quite complex), but the entire experience is what makes this book worth reading. And if you need help or are looking for more information this website will be helpful. I really think this book is worth reading, if only for the experience. It wasn’t overwhelming at all, even though it does take a lot of work to get through. My strategy was to read it a chapter at a time, starting with the actual SoT story, then go back and read all the annotations of that chapter. So, set aside some time and give them book a chance.

Under the Dome

Still working on two long books (one done in a couple days, I think) so here’s an older review.

Finally getting around to writing my thoughts on this book. This is easily my second favorite King book, after The Stand. *side note- After reading The Dark Tower, this is nowhere near my second favorite SK book* Had it been summertime, I could have finished this book in a few days. Damn teaching job gets in the way of my fun reading! =)
King has certainly evolved as a writer, which is something I truly appreciate about him. As terrifying as this book was, it was nowhere near a horror story, like the majority of his books. Like The Stand, it’s just a battle of good vs. evil. None of the people in the town have superpowers, or go crazy, or have rabid dogs. It’s just good people trying to win and protect the town vs. the bad people trying to run the town.

One day, a “dome” slaps down around the town of Chester’s Mill. This impenetrable structure follows the shape of the town exactly. Interestingly, the town can see and communicate with the outside world. They get a kick out of seeing themselves on CNN. The military asks one of their own inside the dome to investigate. They have no idea where this dome came from and suspect it was created from inside the town. They just have no other explanation. To protect a dirty secret, the bad guys of the town take control quickly, and spare no expenses in the destruction of the police, the businesses, and the citizens themselves. As wretched as these people are, King at least gives a fairly plausible reason as to their actions. They didn’t just “go crazy” and start killing their families…..

What’s interesting about this book is the big battle. Which side are people going to be on? The quiet underdog or the boisterous bully who vows to protect the town in times of terrorism. In today’s world it’s hard not to stand with those that protect. Perfectly, the biggest baddie is a used car salesman, and it’s quite entertaining to watch him work his persuasive magic on those around him.

Of course, this is still Stephen King, so there are many casualties, and he does a great job of hinting there will be many more to come throughout the book. I realize this is a long book. But, I truly thought it was worth it. One of the best I’ve read in a long time!

Prep

I’m in the middle of a couple long books, so here’s an older review from a previous blog.

This book has been on my list for awhile. And, even though it’s target audience is adults, it’s really about a girl and her four years at prep school in Mass. She’s on scholarship, from the Midwest, and doesn’t fit in at all, yet somehow manages to make her way around the school fairly well.

We meet Lee at the beginning of her freshman year, where she is awkward, uncomfortable, and worships unattainable people, namely a senior girl and a fellow freshman named Cross. On a random trip to the mall, she and Cross cross (haha) paths and he treats her like an equal, though Lee always knows she’ll never been seen as a wealthy beautiful girl. She is instantly smitten with Cross and seeks out his attention in the oddest ways. She becomes the school’s unofficial hair dresser, cutting both students and teachers alike. With no training, you keep waiting for Lee to lop off an ear, but she manages to do a decent job. She becomes popular for this, but Lee knows that it’s not worth it. She goes back into seclusion as quickly as she was sprung from it.

She befriends only a few people, teaches one to ride a bike, allows another to confess her darkest secret, and manages to unintentionally alienate the entire school towards the end, creates an odd relationship with Cross, but still comes out on top. Lee will never fit in, but that’s okay. She’s just as good as they are, but just a little different.

I did like this book quite a bit, but I do wish it had been only a couple years of school instead of four. I felt like we didn’t really get to see the depth of certain things, since it was all crammed in there. Certainly worth reading. A little bit Gossip Girl, a little bit Gilmore Girls, but you really do cheer for Lee throughout it all.