First Monday Book Day: X

My family is often teasing me about my penchant for books that are "a surreal puzzle box". (A phrase from a cover blurb on some book I bought that has caught the family's collective imagination). And, if you had to assign one letter to embody that idea, it would have to be X, right? The classic algebraic unknown.

So, it tickled me that I read two different books with that letter as the focus of their title this week. Both were intricate structures and worth reading in my humble estimation.

The Story of X by Sarah Rose Etter - X is the narrator, the unknown is the self and the self is a woman. Sometimes horrifying, sometimes infuriating, sometimes loving and ecstatic.

Biography of X - by Catherine Lacey - X is an artist, the recently deceased spouse of the narrator, the unknown is the other, the other is society. This is an incredibly intricate and layered book, complex and ambitious.

As it is July 1, it has now been exactly 15 years since I finished my PhD research, stopped working 70 hours a week in the lab and started my reading spreadsheet. Time for some book facts!

1,021 books read (not counting re-reads) - 68 books/year

642 books of fiction (novels, novellas, graphic novels)
219 collections (comics, short stories, poetry)
160 non-fiction books

682 physical books (67%)
173 audiobooks
166 e-books

431 women or non-binary authored books (43%)
144 translated works

45 thoughts on “First Monday Book Day: X”

  1. Keeping with the X theme, if you want to read an excellent book on Malcolm X, The Dead are Arising by Les Payne is highly recommended. It's a couple of years old and won a Pulitzer. Also has some new information on his assassination.

  2. DG, a few years back I read Hamnet based on your recommendation and of course loved it. Earlier this spring, I watched a performance of Hamlet on PBS and it struck me how the "To be or not to be" and the "poor Orick" scenes made so much sense after experiencing the death of child. Made me appreciate both works that much more.

  3. I love the stats. I only started tracking my reading last year, so I don't have nearly the extensive states on that. Board Games on the other hand... I have pretty good stats going back to 2014.

    My current obsession is the Red Rising series. Currently reading Lightbringer, book 6. Finished Dark Age recently, which was one of the more eventful and incredible books of the series. I love the world building by Pierce Brown, and it's amazing to see how the scope of the world has grown from the first book to the 6th. I do think it'll get adapted to visual media someday and I'm really looking forward to seeing it that day.

  4. Just finished Adrian Tchaikovsky's latest, Service Model, thanks to signing up for StL Library District's card, since they had the ebook prior to St. Charles Library District. Twice the library cards, twice the fun!

    I recently read the first two books of The Prefect Dreyfus Emergencies series by Alastair Reynolds on a recommendation of a co-worker (Aurora Rising and Elysium Fire, with Machine Vandetta coming out September-ish). They're pretty lightweight, but did the trick.

    1. I did read (or re-read) the entire MurderBot series so far earlier this year. Martha Wells has become the darling of the SF/Fantasy awards circuit recently - it all started with that first MurderBot book.

  5. Somewhere around the beginning of the year, I went through all the bookshelves in my house (and my Kindle account) and listed all the books that I had bought for myself that I haven't yet read (final tally: 41)

    As of now, I've read 9 of those. Also, I have read all the books that I have bought for myself in 2024, so the pile is actually getting smaller!

  6. I'm currently reading Bunyan and Henry: Or, the Beautiful Destiny by Mark Cecil. Which I think is his debut novel. It's an alternate mythology where Paul Bunyan and John Henry meet with strong undercurrents on industrialization, race, class, etc. It's written with kind of a wide-eyed narrative feel as if it was taken from an oral tradition. I'm only about 1/3 of the way through but very engaging. It's getting great reviews as well.

  7. Always amazed at your reading output (and love mining your lists for books I might otherwise have missed).

    I've been on a Percival Everett kick lately starting when I read The Trees last year. If you ever wish the Coen Brothers made a movie about lynchings, then he wrote just the book for you. Since then, I've also read Telephone, James, and Erasure and enjoyed them all.

  8. Cool.

    I have rediscovered my public library.
    The Silmarrilion (via Libby)
    Penric's Progress (McMaster Bujold)
    Penric's Labors (McMaster Bujold)

    The City We Became (Jemisin)
    Penric's Travels (McMaster Bujold)
    A Memory Called Empire (Martine)
    The World We Make (Jemisin)

    A Desolation Called Peace (Martine)
    The Library of the Unwritten (Hackwith)
    The Witch King (Martha Wells)

    The Archive of the Forgotten (Hackwith)
    The Fifth Season (Jemisin)
    The Obelisk Gate (Jemisin)
    The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell) (the Boy's copy)

    The Stone Sky (Jemisin)
    Lord Demon (Zelazny and Lindskold)
    The Golem and the Jinni (Wecker)
    Dune Messiah (Herbert)
    The Just City (Walton)

    The Lost Gate (Card)
    The Vanished Queen (Lisbeth Campbell)
    The Gate Thief (Card)
    The Passage (Cronin)
    A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Chambers)

    1. 1. The Penric series just keeps going...
      2. Arkady Martine's space operas are so good
      3. I hope you loved The Broken Earth books
      4. Witch King ... any good? I feel like that's just outside of my recent sci-fi/fantasy I should read top 5.

      1. The Penric's books are very easy reads. I have really enjoyed them.

        Agreed on Martine. And, yes, I loved the Jemisin. Great stuff. Both the NYC stuff and the Broken Earth books.

        The Witch King was excellent. I wanted more from that universe.

        Cronin's The Passage was outstanding. I have book two (The Twelve) on hold.

        Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni was very well-crafted and entertaining. Also, she's an alum of the Alma Mater, sooo, that's extra. Every bit as good as Jemisin or Arkady or the best of McMaster Bujold.

        Card's Gate stuff is very breezy. Fun, with a few nods at deeper philosophical questions, but no real need to dig into them. He's obviously experienced with adolescent protagonists.

        The Hell's Library stuff was great fun. Zelazny/Lindskold was great. Jo Walton's The Just City was thought-provoking and entertaining.

        The only disappointment was Campbell's Vanished Queen. Hints of fantastical elements, but mostly romantasy. It was. Fine.

        1. I am a huge fan of McMaster Bujold's World of the Five Gods. The first two (The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls) are two of the best fantasy books I have ever read. The Penric stuff isn't up to that standard, but are really fun.

          Jemisin, of course, is awesome.

  9. Kudos on the reading, spreadsheeting - very impressive. I haven’t been anywhere near as fastidious on either front.

    Recent reads:
    Hard by a Great Forest (Vardiashvili)
    Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making (Kaner)
    The LockUp (Banville)
    The Wager (D. Grann)
    Amirbar (Mutis)
    Elephant Company (Croke)
    Truman (McCullough)
    Pietr the Latvian (Simenon)
    To Have or Have Not (E. Hemingway)
    Child 44 (Tom Rob Smith)
    A Gentleman in Moscow (A. Towles)
    Silent Snow, Secret Snow (C. Aiken)
    Kitchen Confidential (Bourdain)
    St. Julian the Hospitaller (Flaubert)
    The Crying of Lot 49 (Pynchon)
    Sherlock Holmes The Sign of Four (A. Conan Doyle)
    The Camel Club (Baldacci)
    Snow (John Banville)
    The Association of Small Bombs (Karan Mahajan)
    The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)

    Currently reading:
    White Teeth (Z. Smith)
    A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bryson)
    The Bluest Eye (Morrison)

  10. Novels read in May and June:

    Terra Ignota series by Ada Palmer - finished the final book, Perhaps the Stars, at the very end of June. I still kind of love the juxtaposition in this series of these hugely expansive perspectives of the narrator (and author) with the fact that most of the characters are comic-book villains with all the paper-thin motivations and unexplained powers that come along with it - there's philosophy and monologues and big, big timelines but also Achilles is brought back to life and lays waste to the Earth from space in a robot suit. This was clearly the book that Palmer most wanted to write, it was so full of everything. Not every single thing worked, but I enjoyed the entire series from beginning to end.

    My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris (both volumes). Incredible artwork, really good story. These are books that I can't imagine how they have actually been made - how can someone create something this overwhelming? It was 7 years between volume 1 and volume 2, so it was worth it to go back and read both as a single work.

    Clear by Carys Davies - Bought this on my UK trip - it's set on the islands surrounding the north of Scotland and it's bleak and lonely and the words in it are wonderful. The plot is the weakest point - almost everything that happens is unjustified, but the plot happens to the characters, and they are lovely, so that's worth reading.

    Lone Women by Victor LaValle - Horror-ish story of a woman who moves to Montana to homestead on her own. I like LaValle - this was an interesting idea and got just precarious enough at the climax.

    Glorious Exploits by Ferdia Lennon - A layabout in 400 BC Sicily who speaks like a modern-day Irishman works with his friend to put on a Euripides play using Athenian prisoners from the Peloponnesian war. It's quite the premise. I liked it well enough, but it wasn't the genius that it aspired to. Great cover art though.

    Dead Souls by Nikol Gogol - Yep. I certainly read that. Parts were good. Most of it felt old.

  11. I'm not going to run it all down, but will say that I'm reading Shōgun and finding it very enjoyable. I've never successfully read a book this long before, and it's taking time, but I'm ¾ through and excited to take on the last, novel-length chunk.

    (Then I'll watch the new series. Then I'll watch the old series. Then I'll take a long-book break before picking up The Power Broker. Then after another break, perhaps I'll consider more James Clavell books?)

      1. It is long! At the moment my only reading is before falling asleep, so it’s definitely taking months to finish. I’m surprised that I haven’t felt there were any extended boring sections yet…maybe just a few pages at most. Though there also hasn’t quite been any of those extreme “I can’t stop reading” sections, either. Maybe that’s because many times I’m very tired going into my reading sessions?

        I’m curious how historically accurate the portrayal is. Having been to Japan, the life and culture portrayed is a believable history that could lead to what I experienced. Modern Japan coming out of that past makes sense. But it could also be the other way around–Clavell extrapolating a fictional version of that past from his modern experience of Japan. Guessing it’s a mix.

        I’ll wait until after finishing the book to dig into the accuracy of it.

    1. Gosling usually does a pretty good job of picking movies. I can't think of too many he's been in that I haven't liked.

      I was torn on that book. I liked it overall but felt like it got slow in parts.

          1. Agreed. I love a good film where two disparate leads learn to work together and appreciate each other. I also like that directors nowadays don't have to automatically make scientists antagonistic with each other (I'm looking at you, 2010) when the book doesn't (ie: The Martian, Arrival, and maybe Spaceman which I haven't seen yet)

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