Reading, 2006Q1

(I’ve realized I need to deal with a much-too-high interrupt rate at work, in part by ensuring I take out a bit of time for leisure. Here’s an entry I started in April.)

Over the past few years, my reading rate has climbed; perhaps I’ve unwittingly dropped a periodical, or maybe I’m getting back to splitting my reading time across a few books at once. In any case, I thought it would be pleasant to get back to recommending recent reading I’ve enjoyed.

When we were in Long Island at the end of our winter vacation, I secured sufficient late night reading to get through three 20th century classics:

  • Chesterton’s The man who was Thursday (1907) [Wikipedia] [Gutenberg], which was an entertaining story that appears to have simultaneously pioneered the spy novel, takeoffs of the spy novel, and a number of forms of “postmodern paranoid” storytelling. It would be interesting to contrast with Conrad’s The secret agent (1907), but I won’t have time to work through these contemporary novels in parallel.
  • Christopher Morley’s [Wikipedia] Parnassus on wheels [Gutenberg] and The haunted bookshop [Gutenberg]. These were light novels (about booksellers); one of the funniest parts was the introduction given in the edition of Parnassus that I read, which suggested that full comprehension of the novel would only be available to readers born in a three to four month period in the early 1920s. I wasn’t, but the books are still fun—although I never worried about highwaymen, however shabby, in any of my traverses of Connecticut.

One of Benjamin or Nathaniel, and sometimes both, would accompany me to the Redwood City library. We’ve been finding some fun books, plus I can try to read science fiction again.

  • Ben and I have been working our way, planet by planet, through Dav Pilkey‘s Ricky Ricotta and his mighty robot series. The stories are on the corny side for adults, although I admire the determined construction of a monsters-on-planets cosmology. (Plus the cheese surnames on mouse characters are good silliness.)
  • I blitzed through Cory Doctorow’s Eastern standard tribe, and Bruce Sterling’s Zeitgeist and The zenith angle. I liked the last of these best; the other two were simple. (I like Doctorow’s story ideas initially, but I find that the unfolding is too pat—obvious complications of the hypothesis are ignored.)
  • Out of some unknown reptilian duty—I started following this series after my undergraduate degree—I read Robert Jordan’s Knife of dreams, which is the eleventh book in his Wheel of time series (not counting prequels). Apparently, the series will end with Book Twelve and, for what seems like forever, some plotlines appear to be coming to their conclusions.
  • From Ben’s continuing exploration of prehistory, I recommend Alan Turner’s National Geographic prehistoric mammals and Tim Haines’s Walking with prehistoric beasts. The latter is a companion to the Discovery Channel series—narrated by Stockard Channing—and appears to be illustrated with high quality stills from the shows, along with expanded text retellings of each episode. The National Geographic book is more of a complete text about the major prehistoric mammal groups. We enjoyed both of these enormously—suggestions on further reading are welcome, as I fear we’ll be off into college texts otherwise.
  • My final novel of the quarter was Philip Roth’s The plot against America, which was very finely written. I kept comparing it to the famous science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick, The man in the high castle, which is also an alternate history of World War II. Dick’s novel eventually focuses on the detection of wrongness by the inhabitants of his reality; Roth’s eponymous protagonist on more personal disquiet. Recommended.

Of course, none of us stopped reading in April, but a quarterly summary seems like a reasonable balance.