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1. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

I went along to a talk and had this signed back at the end of August. This was a priority - that's how out of control my reading list has been this year.

This is the third in the trilogy following Oryx and Crake (which I read on a plane back from Argentina and can't remember much about) and The Year of the Flood, which I read on the train back from London some time within the last year.

I think The Year of the Flood was a more interesting story, but MaddAddam is much funnier. It takes place starting directly from where Year of the Flood left off with a little community trying to build some kind of a life after the plague. This includes the Crakers, the genetically-tinkered-with humanoids made by Crake, who are vulnerable and infuriating.

That's what makes the book so funny - a lot of it is Toby, the protagonist, telling the Crakers their night time story, with their interruptions. She's very patient but you can see how her patience is stretched.

The other story is the story of how Zeb came to be with the God's Gardeners cult when he's so not like them. It's all Boy's Own Adventure stuff (er - in a paranoid dystopian future) and not a little funny, especially the bit up in the Yukon where he shoots a bear.

Highly recommended.
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42. Common Sense and Agrarian Justice by Thomas Paine

Tom Paine on how we don't need kings, and why the American Revolution should succeed. The first of these is still relevant, and Paine's arguments still stand up. Agrarian Justice is an early plan for a universal old age pension.

Slightly less excellent than The Age of Reason, but a short, easy read on important subjects.

Part of the reason I love Paine so much is that, while I do care passionately about the history of ideas, for the most part I'm too stupid to read the primary texts and have to rely on later analysis. With Paine I can easily read the original.

43. Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

This month's Bibliogoths book. I've only read one Carter book before (The Passion of New Eve), which I really disliked. So I was pleasantly surprised that I did quite enjoy this one. I don't claim to have caught even 25% of what is going on in there, but it's a very entertaining and thought provoking story even if some of the symbolism and subtext passes you by.

I've always thought I have issues with magical realism, but I might have to reconsider that too.

44. Joyland by Stephen King

I haven't read a Stephen King book since Needful Things, but Neil Gaiman wrote positively about him recently (ish), so I thought I'd give him another try.

I *loved* this book. It's a coming-of-age story about a 21 year old college student who takes a summer job at an amusement park in North Carolina. A few years previously a woman had been murdered at the park, and is said to haunt it. The mystery and supernatural stuff is secondary to what is going on in the main character's life for the first 3/4 of the book.

Couldn't put it down. The writing is incredible. King made me cry on the bus. Some years ago he wrote a memoir on writing, and I need to check it out. Come to think of it, I can't remember what I did last week, yet I can remember his description of the pain of arthritis suffered by a character in Needful Things.

I said some time ago that half of King's stuff that I read bored me to tears. I'm beginning to think that I just came to it way too young (I was 12 when I started reading his work), because the only books that I really rated were the ones that I read when I had got to university (It, The Tommyknockers, Needful Things).

45. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Another really good read. A sort of sequel to Oryx and Crake. The third book in the trilogy is out soon. I need to re-read Oryx and Crake (Not that I remember anything that long ago anyway, but I read in on the plane back from Argentine - not ideal conditions).

Although it's set in a dystopian near future and then humanity is mostly wiped out, it's not so much science fiction as a study of what people would do in those situations. Really well developed characters.
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25. Bluebeard's Egg by Margaret Atwood

An early collection of short stories from the mid-80s. The sort of thing, if it weren't Atwood, I'd write off as "women's issues stuff". These are not her best work, but even so, I charged through the whole thing in 3 days. Her writing just sucks me into the narrative and I want to know what happens next, even though that often isn't much.

Some of the stories are set in the Toronto art world of the 80s, and I recognise so many of the character types in it. The lefty actors whose troupe performs plays for striking workers and who were always being accused of being anti-Semitic, or not Jewish enough, etc made me laugh out loud - I went to Trent with people exactly like that.

My favourites as the semi-autobiographical ones set up in Northern Ontario with eccentric family members.
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60. In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood

A collection of Atwood's essays about SF and related books. Devoured in two days on the coach and train to and from London. Quite simply wonderful - fascinating, wonderfully written. If I'd had one of my notebooks on me I would have filled it up with quoteables.

I had no idea Atwood is such a huge H Rider Haggard fan.

Will probably re-read this, fairly soon. And I don't re-read anything, ever.

And now I've got to find time to re-read Idylls of the King.
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Once again, I've failed to keep up.

72. Deadlock by Sara Paretsky

This is the second in the VI Warshawski series.  I've read the first and the third (and a random volume from later in the series).  I liked this a lot more than I liked either the book before or after it.  Maybe because it's obvious she's put a lot of research into the subject of the mystery (Great Lakes shipping); maybe I was just in the mood.  The dramatisation has recently been played on Radio 4 Extra, so I read it with Kathleen Turner's voice in my head.

One thing that really struck home was at VI's cousin's funeral, many of the relatives pass judgement on his choice of career (he'd been a professional hockey player) at his own funeral and are really negative about VI not living in the suburbs and having 6 kids.  I remember all too well people being like that in the 80s (the book was published in 1984 and is set a couple years earlier).  In some ways I really don't miss the 80s.

73. Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

A novella really, following a 1930s scientific expedition to Svalbard.  Three English men choose to over-winter in a remote location; but there's something else there with them.  A few of you have read this recently and recommended it; it is indeed very, very good and highly recommended.

I just have one little niggle; the protagonist finds out about the history of their site through a conversation with a Norwegian trapper who also overwinters on Svalbard who is probably illiterate.  It is clear that the Englishman does not speak Norwegian, so that assumes the trapper speaks (quite complicated) English.  I'd have to check, but I'm fairly certain that most Norwegians speaking English is a post-WW2 phenomenon.

I thought her name was familiar and I see that she wrote the Wolf Brother series of books for young people.  I started to read the first one and gave it up not because it offended me, but because it didn't grab me that much and I had too much else going on at the time.  I might give this series another go.

74. Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City by Norman Davies and Roger Moorhouse

This is a history of the city of Wroclaw (previously Breslau), now in Poland (previously in Germany, Prussia, Austria, the Holy Roman Empire, etc).   Davies' central thesis is that most of Central Europe has been subject to changes in ethnicity, population and nationhood for as long as the historical record goes back, and a similar book could be written about many Central European cities.

This book is huge, and full of really interesting factoids.  It mainly left me wanting to know more about medieval and early modern Central Europe, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The only complaint I have is that it is weighted heavily towards the 20th century, which interests me less, but I'm sure that's a minority opinion.

75. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

This book is also huge, but only took me five days to read.  I think I like it even better than The Blind Assassin.  It's the story of three Toronto women whose lives have been blighted at different times by their involvement with a femme fatale named Zenia.  They thought she was dead, but then she turns up again.

All three main characters are real enough that you care about them, but tip just slightly into caricature so that a lot of the book has an undercurrent of being really funny.  I especially got a kick out of the teeny tiny history professor who specialises in the history of war.  Atwood makes well observed comments about women academics studying subjects that are still perceived as male domain (It was a prominent feature of my own academic career), but the titles of the classes that this woman teaches are hilarious.

It was published in 1993 so the present-day part of the story is set in the Toronto I was still living in, and I recognise just about every shop and restaurant she mentions.

My only complaint is that I felt slightly let down by the end.  Logically, it works, but emotionally I felt a bit ripped off.
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40. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

This month's Bibliogoths book, and we've not yet met, so I won't say much.

This was a re-read for me. I loved it just as much this time as I did the first; I always say the mark of a good writer is someone who makes you care about people and situations that you normally wouldn't.

41.The Stations of the Sun: A history of the ritual year in Britain by Ronald Hutton

That's the same Prof Hutton that does the occasional public talk in the Bristol area. This is the scholarly edition of the talk he gave last Hallowe'en at the cemetery. It's a synthesis of the extant historical accounts of how the British (and to a lesser extent, the Manx and Irish) have celebrated seasonal festivals and holy days through the ages. Hutton convincingly rubbishes the claims of earlier folklorists (who were allergic to doing things like read actual primary sources) that most of the ritual year is a hangover of a pan-Celtic, pre-Christian world.

This book is very long, and dense, and at times does read like a laundry list. I know from my own work that such is the price to pay for being the first person to systematically study a topic. It's definitely worth reading, even though the pattern for most of the festivals examined is the same: records first appear in the later middle ages and rituals & celebrations are well established by Tudor times. They mostly survive the Reformation of Henry VIII, but are stopped by the more ideological Reformation of Protectorate of the Duke of Somerset, revived under Mary, and gradually eroded under Elizabeth. Things were mostly dour and miserable under the Stuarts until the Restoration; then it all gets quite complex. The short version of the decline of most seasonal customs is that most of them revolved around poorer people begging for money or food to perform the rituals/customs, and there was often an element of Misrule, both of which became unacceptable as the 19th century wore on. However, many customs were moved from a public place to the family home (for example, Christmas becomes a family rather than a community celebration in the Victorian era) at this time. And now they are being revived as community celebrations in many places.


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