Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Books: March to April

While I've lost track of some of the books I've read during the last couple of months, but that's been compensated for by the introduction of a new system for getting books out that's paying great dividends: I read reviews of books that sound interesting; type them into a file on my phone; by the time I get to the library to get something out, I've forgotten the exact plot of the book so I choose something at random, get it out without reading the back cover (which I've found usually contains massive spoilers for up to 200 pages of a book), and then read it with a completely fresh eye.

Going into books blind has been fun!


Lost for books to read, I pulled a Roger Zelazny novel that I've owned for years out my 'To Read' bookshelf. Turns out it was the second book in a series, but it had a pretty good recap of events in it. I was about 80 pages in when I realised that I'd be going to the library the next day and getting out the other four books in the series.

Zelazny's 'Ambert' quintet is fun, smart high fantasy with a taste of Moorcockian surreality ... but most of all, it's a noir. The third book, Sign of the Unicorn, is basically a series of flashbacks explaining backstories (and in some cases, twisted motivations) of the lead character's family members. Later in this post, I'm going to be talking about my dislike of trilogies and series, but this was good. Like, 'finishing one of the books every night' good.

Declare is the first Tim Powers novel I've read. What starts as a reasonably normal Le Carre-esque Cold War spy thriller slowly becomes an alternate-history biography of Kim Philby and a textbook study of how to slowly reveal a complicated mythology. Like a Clive Barker novel by way of John Le Carre, it inspired me to immediately get out another Tim Powers: Last Call - a story about a gambler who once lost a very important game of poker, and is now about to pay the price for it.

Gino: Read Last Call. Anyone else, if you're interested in the Tarot, the story of the Fisher King, or stories that feel like 80s style Clive Barker with less gruesomeness and less misanthropy, check it out too.

Pearce bought a copy of Life's Lottery by Kim Newman, which I immediately seized from him and read three times over the next three nights. This is the literary Choose Your Own Adventure novel I've always wanted to read. A story where the main character changes his very personality based on the choices you make. The story covers about 40 years, centring around Thatherite and Blarite Britain, was constantly riveting and insightful ... and I still feel like I haven't tapped all of its depths. It was also a great deal more magical realist (and violent) than I expected, with a fantastic authorial voices that sometimes talks directly to the reader (and sometimes passes judgement on you).

(Great to see that my propensity for cheating at Choose Your Own Adventure books is undiminished; at one point I think I had four fingers stuck in various pages so that I could try out various alternatives.)

After waking up from a dream in which I had bought a roleplaying game about a city under the ocean, I decided to read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. First thing that surprised me: it was in the children's section of the library. Second thing: it's effectively the 1860s version of hard sci-fi. Jules Verne seems to be striving to make every detail seems as plausible as possible based on the science and engineering capabilities of the time. Third thing: it's kinda boring. The book is mostly a travelogue that spends very little time fleshing out its characters, and the big incidents of the book are separated by many pages worth of descriptions of fish.

While reading this, I struggled to see how you could adapt this into a feature film for the 21st century. Surely the sense of wonder about the undersea world has been lost. I didn't get to see Oceans at the Film Festival (which might have changed my mind), but it sounds like I happily avoid the narrator-rage that people experienced in listening to Pierce Brosnan for 84 minutes.

How to Get Rich was a fun non-fiction read about how to be an entrepreneur. Unsparing in its description of the prices you'd have to pay in order to be rich, and filled with a lot of wisdom. Along with the Four Hour Work Week, this is one I think I'm going to have to re-read.

Next post, why I finished The Knife of Never Letting Go (the first book in a trilogy), and didn't feel the need to read the rest of the series; and a book that scared me.
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