Friday, June 20, 2008

The size of a football or a pineapple

Werner Heisenberg's anecdote about fellow physicist Paul Dirac, describing a scene when they were traveling together to Japan, as given by Gino Segre in Faust in Copenhagen:
We were on the steamer from America to Japan, and I liked to take part in the social life on the steamer and, so, for instance, I took part in the dances in the evening. Paul, somehow, didn't like that too much but he would sit in a chair and look at the dances. Once I came back from a dance and took the chair beside him and he asked me, "Heisenberg, why do you dance?" I said, "Well, when there are nice girls, it is a pleasure to dance." He thought for a long time about it, and after about five minutes he said, "Heisenberg, how do you know beforehand that the girls are nice?"
Light reading this past week: Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (hmmm, I cannot tell how often I reread those books as a child, they certainly contributed deeply to my notion of what a story should be); and a very good thriller, a battered paperback which surfaced as I tidied things up the other week, Peter Abrahams' Hard Rain. You can see the plot twist coming a mile away, but it is nonetheless quite gripping...

Yesterday I was traveling, with airport hours to kill, but was lucky enough to have two highly suitable bits of light reading.

The first, Lee Child's Nothing to Lose, was altogether sublime. Everyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am obsessed with Child's Jack Reacher novels, which seem to me the utter pinnacle of light reading! Seriously, if you're thinking about writing a novel and you care at all about the virtues of popular fiction (pacing, voice, character, story-telling stuff), these books are worth a read. Lee Child is the Tiger Woods of light reading, he just does it better than everyone else, one feels oneself to be in the presence of greatness! I don't think this one's the best of 'em, but it's still amazingly good, far better than almost everything else that's out there. (Thanks to Levi for standing in line to get me a signed copy at BookExpo!)

The second was something of a disappointment, though even multiple disappointments has not been enough to make me stop reading this addictive series, the guiltiest of guilty pleasures: the latest installment of Laurell K. Hamilton's vampire hunter series, Blood Noir. Go and read the Amazon reviews, they are funny! The last one I read was quite good--it was more built on the original crime/thriller platform that made this series initially so appealing, along with reasonably good character and voice stuff. But the series devolved at some point into vampire-animal-shapeshifter erotica, and the thing about erotica is that it is not interesting to read, the characters are immaterial and there is virtually no plot! So that the weakest of these books just read like the stream-of-consciousness output of someone sitting in a room spooling out pages of wish-fulfillment. Hamilton's definitely got something special as a writer, or we would not all continue to read these books--but this one does not show her at her best...

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