Thursday, July 2, 2015

From the Stacks Reviewlettes

You guessed it, everyone, it's time for more reviewlettes so I can get rid of a few more books before I move!  I've been trying to be better about occasionally forsaking my abundance of review copies to sink my teeth into books that have been looming on my own prodigious stacks for too long.  Often, I let the randomizer pick one for me, just so I don't waste a lot of time on decision-making.  When you have as many books as I do, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the choice of what to read next, so I don't even bother giving myself the choice.

We'll kick off with The Martian by Andy Weir, a recently well-loved book slated to soon be a movie featuring Matt Damon.  What can I say about The Martian that hasn't already been said?  The answer is, not that much.  The story starts off with Mark Watney, the botanist/mechanical engineer in a team of astronauts investigating Mars, being accidentally abandoned there during a windstorm that his team believes took his life.  The rest of the book is the story of how the enterprising and entertaining Watney creatively solves the problem of being stranded on Mars while NASA tries to cook up a way to get him back safely.  The Martian is the true essence of science fiction, in that there is more legitimate sounding science in this story than I can ever recall being exposed to in a book of fiction.  In fact, there was so much science and math that it took me a while to get into the book, and I feared I would be bored enough by it to put the book down.  Happily, the intrepid Watney has a winning sense of humor and the suspense of wondering what he would do next when near-catastrophe after near-catastrophe befell him kept the pages turning.  Occasionally it seems as if Watney becomes a little bit of a "Marky Sue," the perfect astronaut, always knowing what to do next and greeting setbacks with ingenuity and unfounded optimism, however, there's no doubt that he's a lovable character and The Martian a very enjoyable book.  I very much look forward to seeing its movie!

Next up, there's A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton.  A Map of the World is an old Oprah's Book Club book that's been languishing on my shelf for (be still my heart) a decade or more.  I surmise that the randomizer was feeling snarky when it chose this one, since the book is around 400 pages, but if the print in my copy was a rational size, it would probably be more like 600.  In short, it's a real morale buster for the reader who is trying to slough off as many books as possible before moving.  However, and herein lies the "problem." I really liked the book.  The beginning finds hapless housewife Alice Goodwin waking up on her Wisconsin farm for the last normal morning before tragedy strikes.  Within the first few chapters, her neighbor and friend Theresa's daughter has wandered off to the farm's pond and drowns in the few minutes it takes Alice to hunt down a swimsuit and discover that one of her charges is missing.  I thought this incident would be the crux of the book, but as it turns out, the drowning is just the tip of the tragic iceberg that strikes the Goodwin family that year and changes their lives forever.  Admittedly, A Map of the World is a bleak book, however Hamilton is a wizard with words, bringing forth two equally compelling narrators in Alice and her husband Howard, expertly depicting the tumble-down farm and the daily struggle it takes to keep it going.  A Map of the World is a dense and introspective account of a family temporarily torn asunder that explores big themes like guilt and forgiveness while at the same time contemplating human connections that are strikingly universal but too easily threaten to give way under pressure.  A Map of the World takes a little extra time to dig into, but for readers who appreciate a good character study with a plot to back it up, it's definitely worth the effort.

(No disclaimers!  These books are all mine!)


  1. A friend of mine lent me The Martian ages ago and I keep saying I'm going to pick it up but, for some reason, it lingers on my nightstand.

  2. I'm still resisting The Martian. I have no good reason. I just am. Map of the World sounds good. read another of Hamilton's books long ago--Book of Ruth, I believe. I remember really liking it.

  3. It's good to see that you enjoyed The Martian as much as I did. I wasn't sure about the movie, but the trailer looks good. I can't wait to watch it either!

  4. These both sound excellent, although intimidating, the first for the math/science, the second for the length. Think I'll still check them out, though. Thanks for recommending!