Saturday, 5 September 2009

Reading and other stuff

1. I like that Borders now has a "paranormal romance" section. I didn't notice if the misery memoir section is still there. I do like the idea of their changing their store layout to incorporate current trends.

2. Doesn't this book sound amazing? Maybe more amazing if you're up on ancient Greek literature. Maybe I should read up on it as preparation. Some people don't like really clever stuff, like Stoppard, but I can forgive excess cleverness if the book is done well. One of my favourite clever clever books is Betrayals by Charles Palliser.

3. Anyway back to book reviews.
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
I loved this book, I really did. But I've had very bad results from recommending Neal Stephenson in the past. I adore his Baroque Trilogy, but two very different friends have recently abandoned it less than halfway through the first book. I think I like Stephenson is the best novelist for conveying ideas. Also, he has real science in. I started reading PopCo by Scarlett Thomas but had to give it up. I couldn't cope with how the main character is supposed to be all intelligent but obviously knows far less about code-breaking, etc, than me, and I'm not even a scientist. I've heard her likened to Douglas Coupland. I would agree with that, but not in a good way. So, if you know what the Fibonacci sequence is and realise that it's not a big deal to do basic alphabetical shift codes in your head then read Stephenson. (Cryptonomicon is also great.) If not then read Scarlett Thomas. I will not judge you.

The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale
Interesting biography of a woman whose life more or less mirrored twentieth-century attitudes to lesbianism, except that she was terribly rich, which immured her from a lot of problems. Eventually she just bought a small island in the Bahamas and set herself up as ruler there, with a series of beautiful girlfriends. It was interesting to hear about Dolly Wilde, "Oscar's unusual niece". Maybe I should read her biography too.

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
This is very good in an unostentatiously haunting way. A fat young boy, bullied at school, becomes friends with a strange girl who moves in next door. Because of the recent film of this book I think it's pretty well known what's going on, but it still surprised me by being unexpected in places.

The Black Death by John Hatcher
Since the author is my boss's boss, at least til the end of the month, it's rather a relief that this is good. I nearly chickened out of reading it because I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to cope with the history-told-as-fiction structure. But it actually works quite well, I think because it's still kept reasonably dry, and has straight history bits at the start of each chapter, and full notes to each chapter at the end. It's an interesting way of tackling the problem of telling the history of ordinary people at a time when they're not hugely well documented. It made me think that I'd like to read a book in which someone who has sympathy with late medieval religion put its case; I suppose it would have to be Eamon Duffy. Cos I'm a protestant through and through, and the stuff about indulgences made me feel very angry. Also, it turns out the Catholic church still has them, which seems odd to me.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I think this is the most readable of all his books, because it has quite a lot of plot, with a whodunnit as part. And Ivan's Grand Inquisitor story is just excellent, though I don't approve of Penguin issuing it by itself as a booklet.

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