Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Fri May 21, 2010 11:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

OFFICIAL POLL: June, July and August 2010 FICTION Book


Poll Starts: Saturday, May 22, 2010
Poll Ends: The poll ends when we have a clear winner. You can count on the poll being up for at least 5 full days.

• You MUST have 10 or more total posts to vote. We usually require 25 forum posts. We're going to attempt to lighten up on this rule, but please do not vote if you aren't going to participate.

• You can cast 3 votes and distribute your 3 votes however you like. If you don't assign all 3 votes it will be assumed that you wished to assign all 3 of your votes to the one book you selected.


2 votes for Book #1
1 vote for Book #2

• It is helpful if you use the book title and not just the number of the book.

• You can try to convince other people to vote for your book choice by explaining why you're voting the way you're voting. You are doing a huge service by explaining a little about why you picked whatever book you picked, although this extra step is not required. People do read comments and you do stand to influence them if you make a passionate plea for your book, and the whole goal of our book selection process is to find a book that will stimulate discussion. So don't be shy about attempting to sell us on your book choice.

• Vote today! Please don't wait till you see other people voting because they're waiting for YOU to vote.

Now, on to our 5 book choices...

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Fri May 21, 2010 11:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

Book 1
Neal Stephenson Review
Neal Stephenson enjoys cult status among science fiction fans and techie types thanks to Snow Crash, which so completely redefined conventional notions of the high-tech future that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if his cyberpunk classic was big, Cryptonomicon is huge... gargantuan... massive, not just in size (a hefty 918 pages including appendices) but in scope and appeal. It's the hip, readable heir to Gravity's Rainbow and the Illuminatus trilogy. And it's only the first of a proposed series--for more information, read our interview with Stephenson.

Cryptonomicon zooms all over the world, careening conspiratorially back and forth between two time periods--World War II and the present. Our 1940s heroes are the brilliant mathematician Lawrence Waterhouse, cryptanalyst extraordinaire, and gung ho, morphine-addicted marine Bobby Shaftoe. They're part of Detachment 2702, an Allied group trying to break Axis communication codes while simultaneously preventing the enemy from figuring out that their codes have been broken. Their job boils down to layer upon layer of deception. Dr. Alan Turing is also a member of 2702, and he explains the unit's strange workings to Waterhouse. "When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first.... Of course, to observe is not its real duty--we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed.... Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious."

All of this secrecy resonates in the present-day story line, in which the grandchildren of the WWII heroes--inimitable programming geek Randy Waterhouse and the lovely and powerful Amy Shaftoe--team up to help create an offshore data haven in Southeast Asia and maybe uncover some gold once destined for Nazi coffers. To top off the paranoiac tone of the book, the mysterious Enoch Root, key member of Detachment 2702 and the Societas Eruditorum, pops up with an unbreakable encryption scheme left over from WWII to befuddle the 1990s protagonists with conspiratorial ties.

Cryptonomicon is vintage Stephenson from start to finish: short on plot, but long on detail so precise it's exhausting. Every page has a math problem, a quotable in-joke, an amazing idea, or a bit of sharp prose. Cryptonomicon is also packed with truly weird characters, funky tech, and crypto--all the crypto you'll ever need, in fact, not to mention all the computer jargon of the moment. A word to the wise: if you read this book in one sitting, you may die of information overload (and starvation). --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal
Computer expert Randy Waterhouse spearheads a movement to create a safe haven for data in a world where information equals power and big business and government seek to control the flow of knowledge. His ambitions collide with a top-secret conspiracy with links to the encryption wars of World War II and his grandfather's work in preventing the Nazis from discovering that the Allies had cracked their supposedly unbreakable Enigma code. The author of Snow Crash focuses his eclectic vision on a story of epic proportions, encompassing both the beginnings of information technology in the 1940s and the blossoming of the present cybertech revolution. Stephenson's freewheeling prose and ironic voice lend a sense of familiarity to a story that transcends the genre and demands a wide readership among fans of technothrillers as well as a general audience. Highly recommended.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Fri May 21, 2010 11:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

Book 2
The Help
Kathryn Stockett

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Four peerless actors render an array of sharply defined black and white characters in the nascent years of the civil rights movement. They each handle a variety of Southern accents with aplomb and draw out the daily humiliation and pain the maids are subject to, as well as their abiding affection for their white charges. The actors handle the narration and dialogue so well that no character is ever stereotyped, the humor is always delightful, and the listener is led through the multilayered stories of maids and mistresses. The novel is a superb intertwining of personal and political history in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s, but this reading gives it a deeper and fuller power.

From The Washington Post
From The Washington Post's Book World/ Reviewed by Sybil Steinberg

Southern whites' guilt for not expressing gratitude to the black maids who raised them threatens to become a familiar refrain. But don't tell Kathryn Stockett because her first novel is a nuanced variation on the theme that strikes every note with authenticity. In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, she spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide.

Newly graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in English but neither an engagement ring nor a steady boyfriend, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan returns to her parents' cotton farm in Jackson. Although it's 1962, during the early years of the civil rights movement, she is largely unaware of the tensions gathering around her town.

Skeeter is in some ways an outsider. Her friends, bridge partners and fellow members of the Junior League are married. Most subscribe to the racist attitudes of the era, mistreating and despising the black maids whom they count on to raise their children. Skeeter is not racist, but she is naive and unwittingly patronizing. When her best friend makes a political issue of not allowing the "help" to use the toilets in their employers' houses, she decides to write a book in which the community's maids -- their names disguised -- talk about their experiences.

Fear of discovery and retribution at first keep the maids from complying, but a stalwart woman named Aibileen, who has raised and nurtured 17 white children, and her friend Minny, who keeps losing jobs because she talks back when insulted and abused, sign on with Skeeter's risky project, and eventually 10 others follow.

Aibileen and Minny share the narration with Skeeter, and one of Stockett's accomplishments is reproducing African American vernacular and racy humor without resorting to stilted dialogue. She unsparingly delineates the conditions of black servitude a century after the Civil War.

The murders of Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. are seen through African American eyes, but go largely unobserved by the white community. Meanwhile, a room "full of cake-eating, Tab-drinking, cigarette-smoking women" pretentiously plan a fundraiser for the "Poor Starving Children of Africa." In general, Stockett doesn't sledgehammer her ironies, though she skirts caricature with a "white trash" woman who has married into an old Jackson family. Yet even this character is portrayed with the compassion and humor that keep the novel levitating above its serious theme.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sat May 22, 2010 12:10 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

Book 3
Kafka on the Shore
Haruki Murakami Review
The opening pages of a Haruki Murakami novel can be like the view out an airplane window onto tarmac. But at some point between page three and fifteen--it's page thirteen in Kafka On The Shore--the deceptively placid narrative lifts off, and you find yourself breaking through clouds at a tilt, no longer certain where the plane is headed or if the laws of flight even apply.

Joining the rich literature of runaways, Kafka On The Shore follows the solitary, self-disciplined schoolboy Kafka Tamura as he hops a bus from Tokyo to the randomly chosen town of Takamatsu, reminding himself at each step that he has to be "the world¹s toughest fifteen-year-old." He finds a secluded private library in which to spend his days--continuing his impressive self-education--and is befriended by a clerk and the mysteriously remote head librarian, Miss Saeki, whom he fantasizes may be his long-lost mother. Meanwhile, in a second, wilder narrative spiral, an elderly Tokyo man named Nakata veers from his calm routine by murdering a stranger. An unforgettable character, beautifully delineated by Murakami, Nakata can speak with cats but cannot read or write, nor explain the forces drawing him toward Takamatsu and the other characters.

To say that the fantastic elements of Kafka On The Shore are complicated and never fully resolved is not to suggest that the novel fails. Although it may not live up to Murakami's masterful The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Nakata and Kafka's fates keep the reader enthralled to the final pages, and few will complain about the loose threads at the end.

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Previous books such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood have established Murakami as a true original, a fearless writer possessed of a wildly uninhibited imagination and a legion of fiercely devoted fans. In this latest addition to the author's incomparable oeuvre, 15-year-old Kafka Tamura runs away from home, both to escape his father's oedipal prophecy and to find his long-lost mother and sister. As Kafka flees, so too does Nakata, an elderly simpleton whose quiet life has been upset by a gruesome murder. (A wonderfully endearing character, Nakata has never recovered from the effects of a mysterious World War II incident that left him unable to read or comprehend much, but did give him the power to speak with cats.) What follows is a kind of double odyssey, as Kafka and Nakata are drawn inexorably along their separate but somehow linked paths, groping to understand the roles fate has in store for them. Murakami likes to blur the boundary between the real and the surreal—we are treated to such oddities as fish raining from the sky; a forest-dwelling pair of Imperial Army soldiers who haven't aged since WWII; and a hilarious cameo by fried chicken king Colonel Sanders—but he also writes touchingly about love, loneliness and friendship. Occasionally, the writing drifts too far into metaphysical musings—mind-bending talk of parallel worlds, events occurring outside of time—and things swirl a bit at the end as the author tries, perhaps too hard, to make sense of things. But by this point, his readers, like his characters, will go just about anywhere Murakami wants them to, whether they "get" it or not.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sat May 22, 2010 12:15 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

Book 4
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
Haruki Murakami Review
Bad things come in threes for Toru Okada. He loses his job, his cat disappears, and then his wife fails to return from work. His search for his wife (and his cat) introduces him to a bizarre collection of characters, including two psychic sisters, a possibly unbalanced teenager, an old soldier who witnessed the massacres on the Chinese mainland at the beginning of the Second World War, and a very shady politician.

Haruki Murakami is a master of subtly disturbing prose. Mundane events throb with menace, while the bizarre is accepted without comment. Meaning always seems to be just out of reach, for the reader as well as for the characters, yet one is drawn inexorably into a mystery that may have no solution. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an extended meditation on themes that appear throughout Murakami's earlier work. The tropes of popular culture, movies, music, detective stories, combine to create a work that explores both the surface and the hidden depths of Japanese society at the end of the 20th century.

If it were possible to isolate one theme in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, that theme would be responsibility. The atrocities committed by the Japanese army in China keep rising to the surface like a repressed memory, and Toru Okada himself is compelled by events to take responsibility for his actions and struggle with his essentially passive nature. If Toru is supposed to be a Japanese Everyman, steeped as he is in Western popular culture and ignorant of the secret history of his own nation, this novel paints a bleak picture. Like the winding up of the titular bird, Murakami slowly twists the gossamer threads of his story into something of considerable weight.

From Publishers Weekly
Amazingly long, incredibly pricey, wildly experimental, often confusing but never boring, Murakami's most famous novel has been brought to audio life with extreme dedication: by Naxos, a company that regularly wins prizes, and by a reader with an uncommon combination of skills. Degas is already a Murakami veteran, having read the audio version of A Wild Sheep Chase (Naxos), and has worked on radio, stage and even cartoon voice (including Mr. Bean). He catches the constantly changing mental landscape of Murakami's fertile imagination—which moves from detective story to explicit sexual fantasy, heartbreaking Japanese WWII historical flashback, everyday details of married life (cooking, shopping and pet care) and even the occasional burst of satiric humor. Degas treats it all with the clarity and calmness of a very deep, very still pool. Certainly not for everyone's taste or budget, but anyone interested in this important author will find something to enlighten them.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sat May 22, 2010 12:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

Book 5
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel
Lisa See

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. See's engrossing novel set in remote 19th-century China details the deeply affecting story of lifelong, intimate friends (laotong, or "old sames") Lily and Snow Flower, their imprisonment by rigid codes of conduct for women and their betrayal by pride and love. While granting immediacy to Lily's voice, See (Flower Net) adroitly transmits historical background in graceful prose. Her in-depth research into women's ceremonies and duties in China's rural interior brings fascinating revelations about arranged marriages, women's inferior status in both their natal and married homes, and the Confucian proverbs and myriad superstitions that informed daily life. Beginning with a detailed and heartbreaking description of Lily and her sisters' foot binding ("Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace"), the story widens to a vivid portrait of family and village life. Most impressive is See's incorporation of nu shu, a secret written phonetic code among women—here between Lily and Snow Flower—that dates back 1,000 years in the southwestern Hunan province ("My writing is soaked with the tears of my heart,/ An invisible rebellion that no man can see"). As both a suspenseful and poignant story and an absorbing historical chronicle, this novel has bestseller potential and should become a reading group favorite as well.

From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–Lily at 80 reflects on her life, beginning with her daughter days in 19th-century rural China. Foot-binding was practiced by all but the poorest families, and the graphic descriptions of it are not for the fainthearted. Yet women had nu shu, their own secret language. At the instigation of a matchmaker, Lily and Snow Flower, a girl from a larger town and supposedly from a well-connected, wealthy family, become laotong, bound together for life. Even after Lily learns that Snow Flower is not from a better family, even when Lily marries above her and Snow Flower beneath her, they remain close, exchanging nu shu written on a fan. When war comes, Lily is separated from her husband and children. She survives the winter helped by Snow Flower's husband, a lowly butcher, until she is reunited with her family. As the years pass, the women's relationship changes; Lily grows more powerful in her community, bitter, and harder, until at last she breaks her bond with Snow Flower. They are not reunited until Lily tries to make the dying Snow Flower's last days comfortable. Their friendship, and this tale, illustrates the most profound of human emotions: love and hate, self-absorption and devotion, pride and humility, to name just a few. Even though the women's culture and upbringing may be vastly different from readers' own, the life lessons are much the same, and they will be remembered long after the details of this fascinating story are forgotten.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sat May 22, 2010 3:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

Sorry about that! I forgot to unlock this poll once I was done creating it.

Author:  GaryG48 [ Sat May 22, 2010 4:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

I cast my three votes for Book #4,The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.

The person who suggested Wind-Up says it may be the best example of a good post-modern novel. I think it would be a very good thing to have a discussion about what makes a novel “good post-modernism.” Especially since I have no idea what does such. I have never met a pomo novel I liked (including Gravity’s Rainbow, The Crying of Lot 49, and Waiting for Sheetrock); maybe I am missing something important!

I have read the first 60 pages of Wind-Up. So far, each chapter is almost a stand-alone story. If fact, Murakami, in the introduction to one of his short story collections, said, “I find writing novels a challenge writing stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden.” That being said, there are some things in the early part of the book that might develop into themes (if pomo novels have themes): Ringing Telephones; Fortune Tellers; Lost Cat/Necktie; Abandon House/Alleyway; Wife’s Busy Job/Husband’s Joblessness.

In short, it should be fun to talk about a good pomo novel.

Author:  Suzanne [ Sat May 22, 2010 9:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

This is hard, both Murakami's novels are nominated!

One vote for: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Two votes for: Kafka On The Shore

Author:  wilde [ Sun May 23, 2010 1:07 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

Three votes for #5, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.

Great piece of Chinese historical fiction, beautifully written. Dynamic, well developed characters, wonderfully detailed, great plot, emotional and has plenty of action too... What more you want? 8)

Author:  oblivion [ Sun May 23, 2010 2:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

I'm doing the opposite of Suzanne:

Two votes for: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
One vote for: Kafka On The Shore

Murakami is simply a master!
Although I have to admit toying with the thought of nominating "Snow Flower" as well. Sigh. Too many books to read, too short of a life. Do I detect an Asian theme here?

Author:  bleachededen [ Sun May 23, 2010 5:00 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

3 votes for Cryptonomicon.

I'm really interested in World War II and I'd like to see how Stephenson tackles it. I'm also very interested to see how he contrasts the technology of the 1940s and the code breakers who used the German enigma device against them, and the future world that uses sophisticated computer languages to do pretty much anything, and how people in the past view the future, and how people in the future view the events of the past. Even though this book is supposedly nothing like Snow Crash, I can tell Stephenson will have some really fascinating tricks up his sleeve that will provide many topics for discussion. I remember reading about the Sumerian language in Snow Crash, and its primal, physical connection to the brain and the Chomskyan suggestion that humans are "hardwired" to receive language, and thinking of the layers of knowledge and language on top of the baser primal knowledge of ancient language as hardware and software and wishing I had someone who was also reading what I was reading to discuss the ideas with. While my boyfriend was very patient and interested, discussion of an exciting topic in a book isn't the same unless the person you're talking to is reading the same thing you are and has the same basic knowledge of the ideas behind it. I wish I had had BookTalk for that one, and I would like to read Cryptonomicon with the kind of insight and literary background the BookTalk community has to offer.

Please let me read this with you! :cry:

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Mon May 24, 2010 6:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

Any more votes? We don't have enough people voting currently to select a winner.

Author:  seespotrun2008 [ Mon May 24, 2010 8:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

1 each Book 2, 4, and 5. These all look really good!

Author:  Theomanic [ Tue May 25, 2010 11:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Official Fiction Book Poll: Vote for our June, July & August 2010 FICTION book!

I vote two for Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (#4), and one for Kafka On The Shore (#3). I guess I sort of split the vote by suggesting two books by the same author. It wasn't intentional!

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