2018 Road Trip… The AudioBooks

Late in 2018 I took a cross-country road trip from Atlanta to Washington state by a long, meandering route across the southern United States.  I love road trips, seeing the landscape change in front of you, sampling what each region has to offer and being able to simply stop and explore however you please really appeals to me.  My entertainment of choice on these drives is audiobooks, lectures, podcasts and the like. After a couple weeks on the road, I made a real dent in my every-growing “reading list”.  By request, here are my micro-reviews:

  • The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi:  This was pretty timely as I drove through the Southwest; just “near future” enough to be painfully underscored by some of the rougher parts of the landscape… drained river beds, dusty farms and rusted machinery. However, the story itself had some problems that really detract from what is otherwise a compelling setting. Characters occasionally made decisions that seemed unrealistic to their natures/situations and the ending is painfully abrupt, like the author was trying to do that “real stories never end” thing but instead comes off like “I made my word count, off to the editor”.  Still, I would recommend it for the novel’s conceptual prescience alone.
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: I’m going to preface that I have complex opinions with the label “young adult fiction”. I loved the concepts introduced in this novel; metaphysical and cosmological theories about the fiction trope of “young protagonist(s) traveling to fantastic worlds” and the implications of their return to the “real world”.  I would have liked to have seen more character and story development, but perhaps this occurs later in the series (Wayward Children).
  • The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman:  This is a collections of non-fiction short work; introductions, musings, memories, observations and reviews. And it is really engaging if you enjoy the meta experience around the world of genre fiction, comics, writers and “the industry”. Even if you don’t agree with every opinion and conclusion Gaiman makes, the reflections they kick off are still well worth the read.  And if you’re anything like me, you’ll end up with a bunch of intriguing additions to your reading list by way of his copious reference.
  • This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong:  A sequel to John Dies at the End, this novel is more of the fun, adventures of two dumb protagonists who, once again, just barely manage to save(ish) the world. It’s a fun read and you’ll find yourself rewarded with several guilty laughs. Sure, make this one into a move too, why not. 🙂
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:  Distill hundreds of years of one of the darkest legacies of Western civilization and present it relentlessly in the vehicle of history fantasy and you’ll have this book. This was not an easy read emotionally, and nor should it be, but if you can read it, you will have a deeper, visceral connection to events and experiences that are too easily underappreciated by those without a personal connection to them.
  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fischer:  Has it really been two years already? Her passing is still fresh in my mind and hearing the audiobook read in her voice makes the material even that more affecting. The stories and revelations Fischer shares are often frank and confessional, she provides enough context and ownership to create understanding without trying to justify or excuse.
  • Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee: All too often, you’ll read a book about the state of some technology and it’ll be all rainbows and unicorns; speculative to the point of fiction.  This is not one of those books.  Mukherjee takes great care to make the concepts accessible without downplaying the challenges and limitations. I went away realistically hopeful which is a lot more satisfying than blind optimism.
  • Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawkings: This last offering is a superb overview of some of the biggest questions in science right now, presented in a practically inviting manner. In a time where disdain, if not outright hostility, for science, truth and knowledge seems to be growing in society, this could be a great gift or read by someone on the edge of that disturbing trend.
  • Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain: This is one of the books that has been recommended to me time and time again, and I didn’t have a single reason not to read it, and yet I never got around to it.  I am so glad I finally did. The insights into the mad, entertaining world of commercial kitchens is only part of the story though.  The often raw story of the meandering path of Bourdain is a real gem, even if the rest of the story beyond the book ends tragically.
  • METAtropolis by Various Artists:  I love the idea of shared world anthologies; from a writing perspective it is interesting to see how different people develop and “own” concepts germinating from a single point. Personally, I felt that the stories in this one got stronger with each successful author.   The first felt clumsy but each successive author seemed to have  better command and more polished style.  The topic matter of a post-environmental collapse world of arcologies, open/closed cities and corporate interests isn’t always completely believable but the mental exercises are interesting.


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