Saturday, June 20, 2020

Quarantines Gone Wild

Ontario has begun phasing the opening of businesses, and certainly it seems like people are going back out there in search of the new normal. Combined with the lack of contact tracing, I think we can expect a second wave of cases and deaths in a couple weeks. I've read that the modest drop in the rate of new cases can be attributed to institutions - their wave has passed but the broader public's still going up.

Not much new to report from our household as I continue my parental leave/quarantine. The ants are back. Our bird-feeder is very popular and I've seen some cardinals and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Sora is basically crawling, and her first two teeth are peeking out. My health is coasting along -- not great, not terrible, some nights better than others. Quality sleep still manages to escape me, there being so much to do all the time.

I have been getting a fair bit of reading done, mostly fiction.
  • The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. Really enjoyed this fantasy series following a talented, strong-headed child as they get pulled into an adventure spanning multiple worlds. 4/5
  • Warlight by Michael Ondaatje. Beautifully written story of a life told in two parts -- as a child missing his parents and later as an adult, piecing together the mystery of his mother's role in World War 2. 4/5
  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. I find I cannot recommend this epic, insightful, incredibly detailed and well researched novel enough. Forget this The Martian snack -- Red Mars is the meal deal for a thorough thought experiment into how a colony on Mars would play out. 5/5
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Young man is stricken by an unforeseen, debilitating condition that requires his family to care for him, which conflicts with their and society's expectations of his role as provider. 3/5
  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick. I especially enjoyed that the main character had to plead with his appliances and doors to provide services, as they were on a pay-per-use system. That and the idea of keeping dying people alive in a semi-frozen state, allowing them to slowly talk to people. 4/5
  • Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I didn't know that this was the popular novel by Murakami, whose work I relish. It keeps similar themes to his other works but without the magical realism or violence. 4/5
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang. Awful, just absolute dross. It is a sad state if this work is representative of the coming generation of writers. Or am I wrong in its base, childish treatment of mental illness? 1/5
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Murakami. Twenty years after his high school friends shunned him, Tsukuru confronts them one by one. One of Murakami's weaker works, with a more than usually weak-willed protagonist and frankly one-dimensional women. 2/5
  • Moonshot by Richard Wiseman. I always enjoy Wiseman's books, with their tidbits and trivia into human psychology. Unfortunately I somehow also forget the lessons given. 4/5
  • Kafka on the Shore by Murakami. Young Kafka runs away from his father but is pulled back by a curiously familiar woman and a fateful painting; simple Nakata helps people find their cats but is himself pulled to perform an important task taking him far outside his little world. 4/5
  • Salt by Mark Kurlansky. Reading about the history of salt and its role in commerce and food was interesting but the text was rather dry and lifeless, as if I'd read the result of someone spending hours and hours scouring a library. That is to say, without a broader context I often found the trivia rather unsatisfying. 3/5
  • Killing Commendatore by Murakami. An artist is pulled into a mystery when he finds an ominous painting in the cabin he's renting. Some truly chilling and exhausting dream-like sequences. 5/5
  • Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr. Fascinating memoir by an undergraduate joining a ship's crew as a common sailor, traveling from Massachusetts to California in 1834 to 1836, with intimate and very human detail. 5/5
  • Sputnik Sweetheart by Murakami. Shorter Murakami work, with lots of unresolved ends. K is in love with Sumire, a writer, who is in love with the older Miu, a business-woman. K joins them on their vacation and is tasked to solve a serious mystery. 4/5
  • Thunderer by Felix Gilman. I overheard this title on a video podcast, and as such I do not remember the reason for its mentioning, or even if it was indeed recommended. Nevertheless I enjoyed this story of a magical, almost steampunk city, full of ragamuffins, ruffians, heretics and minor gods, and the attempt by an outsider to understand it. 4/5
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Murakami. This tome was originally three books and so is a lengthy read when combined. As unemployed Toru and his wife Kumiko begin to grow apart, a search for their cat leads Toru to become involved with several extremely particular women. It's a tale far too strange to condense easily but it contains many of my favorite Murakami themes including traveling between worlds in suffocating dream sequences. 5/5


  1. Don't forget Green Mars and Blue Mars! (Unless you meant the whole trilogy when you said Red Mars.)

    1. Thanks, I have yet to read them -- I'll move them up the queue!



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