I’ve been visiting the Library lately, catching up on my reading before the holiday seasons hits as it inevitably will with titanic force (and by titanic, I refer to the original Titans, not the ill-fated ship). Even though it takes longer, sometimes a lot longer, to get the books I want, it’s free, and Mississauga has a nicely-implemented online catalogue; right now I have
- Away: A Novel
- I Am America (And So Can You!)
- The Kite Runner
- Love in the Time of Cholera
- A Thousand Splendid Suns
- Water For Elephants
- The World Without Us
on hold. Most of which I should have my hands on relatively soon. In the meantime, I’ve read a few books I’d like to tell you about.
The Book of Illusions, by Paul Auster, is an exploration of what happens when extreme grief strikes and an accidental obsession spills out. Like most Auster, it’s an odd combination of interesting observation and illusive characterisation. Which, I imagine, sounds a bit like I’m just making things up. If you read Paul Auster, though, I think you’ll know what I mean. And if you read Paul Auster, you’ll know this isn’t one of his strongest outings. It’s worth reading, yes; but it’s not a must-read.
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, is a vampire story. When you think of vampire stories, stately is not the first thing that comes to mind. The Historian is just that, though: at one stately, reserved, and really, really interesting. You should read this one.
Primary Inversion, by Catheriner Asaro, is probably one of the worst sci-fi debacles I have ever stopped reading after 20 pages. It had a cool cover, and the jacket implied it had some cool ideas, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say both were dreadful lies. The writing is so pedestrian you can almost imagine how many editors blanched whilst reading the manuscript; on one page I noticed eleven (eleven!) references to people laughing, grinning, and smiling. All this in on extended dialogue. I imagine the people talking must have been grotesque in their never-ending jocularity, their lips forever stretching in a simulacrum of a smile, never able to achieve any other expression in the readers’ minds. Don’t read this book, whatever you do. Please. Think of the children.
Rule the Web, by Mark Frauenfelder, co-founder of Boing Boing, is a well-written introduction to the internet, or at least the most-visited subsection of the internet, the web. This book will be outdated in two years, so read it fast. If you consider yourself familiar with how the internet works, and what you can do with it, don’t bother. If you are reading this in 2009 and you’re pretty good at this interweb stuff, don’t bother. I’m sure O’Reilly has come out with a Web 4.0 Croudsynergy guide you’re like better.
Sound Designs: A Handbook of Musical Instrument Building, by Reinhold Banek, is just what it sounds like. Light on theory, heavy on implementation, this book isn’t really what I was looking for. But if you’re into building stuff, you might want to give this puppy a spin. If you’re into any other kind of sound design, this is not the book for you.
Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster, happens to come in at half the length of The Book of Illusions. It manages to be, in those few pages, much, much more rewarding. Paul Auster has always struck me as a sort of Lynchian literary figure, and Travels is where his weirdness shines, where the creepiness he can induce ebbs and flows. Beware, if you like books with resolution, this is not for you.
Vacuum Diagrams, by Stephen Baxter, proves relentlessly depressing. Baxter, while a good writer, pens a future history of the human race that becomes more bleak as the book goes one. The book, by the way, is essentially a bunch of short stories and vignettes tied together with baler twine Baxter calls “Eve”. I want to like this volume, but I really don’t. I read the whole thing cover to cover, and though I appreciate the scope of his vision (and appreciate that a lot of writers like Kevin J. Anderson, in the Saga of Seven Suns, have cribbed ideas from this book), I pretty much hate his vision and hate his implementation. That’s not to say you won’t find value in this book. I did and didn’t. You may or may not. That said, I’ve never read a future history of the human race that did a good job; I’m not sure it can be done. Either the separate stories become fragmented and your investment in the characters wanes, or the author’s vision overwhelms him and he ends the book with some contrived crap ex machina. For an example of the latter, read Charles Stross’s Accelerando, otherwise a wonderful book.