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Reading: March 2011’s Books

On time for once (and coming straight on the heels of February’s), here we have the March round-up posts. This month we kick off with the books I read:


Pratchett's out this month and Follett is joined by three newcomers, making it the largest selection of authors so far this year.

Image sources: Ken, Cory, Stephen and Arthur.

In the title images like the one above I give everything/everyone a picture of equal size, even when the books are a collaborative effort (as is the case with one of this month’s books and Good Omens back in January) that maybe should mean each author gets a half-size space. If the image sizes reflected the amount of time each author’s works occupied in the month then January’s would have been a huge image of Terry Pratchett and a sliver of Neil Gaiman at the end because I mostly just read Pratchett’s books, while February and March have also both been dominated by one author.

In those cases though it’s not because I’ve been reading lots of books by one person but because of the sheer size of the individual books. When I’m only reading about an hour a day an epic like The Pillars of the Earth or World Without End takes up most of the month, and while that comes at the expense of other books it’s very satisfying to feel immersed in one place for so long (which is what can be so great about jumping in late to an epic series like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, as I mentioned last week).

On to this month’s reading:

February 26th: 'World Without End', by Ken Follett

Though I started reading this last month it’s such a big book that two days of reading meant that I’d barely made a dent, and it still took up most of the month. That’s no bad thing because it really was very good. It repeats a lot of the same themes from The Pillars of the Earth: the central love story (with the situations that keep the characters apart almost reaching ridiculous levels in this book), the villain who always manages to escape punishment and even gets rewarded, the big building project (although that’s a little downplayed in this one with multiple projects instead of one, and which aren’t so central to the plot) and lots and lots of tragedy and hardship, all intertwined around real historical events.

I would have to say that I prefer The Pillars of the Earth more but that’s not much of a criticism. World Without End is an excellent book.


March 23rd: 'Little Brother', by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow is somebody I’m familiar with through his website Boing Boing and his columns in The Guardian, so when he released a novel and it was well-received I thought I’d give it a try. It’s a young adult novel set after another terrorist attack in the US, which prompts a major security crackdown. People are tracked in everything they do and everywhere they go, monitored for any sudden changes in behaviour that could be a result of terrorist activity, treated as suspects all day, every day. While that sounds draconian it isn’t some distant sci-fi dystopia, it’s a very plausible near-future.

As with most young adult novels the central characters are teenagers, but they’re not superheroes, just people with an interest in coding and hacking who are given reason to want to subvert the security systems and have the know-how to do it. It’s a subject that Doctorow is passionate about and I think the book does a good job of getting his message across, that programming can be both fun and useful and that authority figures aren’t always right just because they’re in charge, so it’s worth pushing against the system if the system is broken.

Unfortunately I don’t really have a teenager around to see if it would make them interested in programming (but it’s a book I’ll pass onto my nephew when he’s old enough), all I have is me. On a personal level then it was an enjoyable book.


March 28th (and April 28th 2010): "Time's Eye", by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke

I mentioned this in my 2010 reading recap as a book I drifted away from (in fact it lead to a five month break from reading), but seeing as I’m a big fan of both Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke (though I’ve read too few books by the latter) I felt it was time to give the book another try. For whatever reason I was able to stick with it this time and enjoyed it.

I’m not even sure what it was about the book that lost me before. Like the other books I’ve read by Baxter and Clarke it has the big ideas and a fairly unique scenario – in this case a new world cobbled together out of chunks of Earth from different time periods – that it uses to explore those ideas. There’s nothing obvious that would have caused me to not look forward to continuing the story, but that’s what happened last year.

Time’s Eye is the first book in the A Time Odyssey trilogy, and upon finishing it I moved immediately onto…


March 31st: "Sunstorm", by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke

… the second book in the trilogy. Sunstorm is set back on the regular Earth (and the Moon and a bit of Mars), where it’s discovered that the Sun is due to give out a massive flare that will wipe out almost all life on Earth, stripping away the atmosphere and evaporating the oceans. It’s not something that can be fixed or stopped like an incoming asteroid, and the book covers humanity’s attempts to save the Earth to the extent possible with what technology and resources they have.

I’d only just started the book at the end of March so my opinion will wait until next month’s round-up.


March Verdict

Quality – I might just be easily pleased but every book I read were all things I enjoyed, even the book that had somehow lost me before. Apart from Little Brother they were all from authors I’m familiar with (and I’ve read plenty of Doctorow’s writing, just not anything fictional), so I suppose they would all be considered fairly safe bets.

QuantityWorld Without End‘s length meant that there weren’t that many different books read, taking up almost an entire month. There were four books in all though and I did spend plenty of time reading.

Newness – Everything I read was something I’d not read before , as even with Time’s Eye I resumed from where I left off rather than start over. March is the first month so far where I’ve been able to say that. I had read previous books from three of the four authors though, which makes them familiar propositions rather than trying out new authors, new voices. That’s something for me to think on.

Goals – Another first for the month is that I’m able to set a proper goal, seeing as this is being written pretty much on time. I don’t actually have much I’m looking to change or achieve, so by and large my goal for April is just to keep to what I’m doing, reading daily and for at least about an hour per day, which isn’t exactly an unreasonable demand. I’d like to manage another month just reading new books rather than withdrawing into comfortable familiarity.

Something I definitely want to do is pick up Firstborn, the third in the A Time Odyssey trilogy and which I don’t currently own. Ideally I’d like it to arrive in time for me to go straight into that after finishing Sunstorm. We’ll see how that goes next month.


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