Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Light reading on the road

The Kindle is a godsend for travel; I cannot imagine what peculiar, unsatisfactory and yet physically backbreaking a selection I would otherwise have been lugging around during the past week and a half. I read a few books that were truly exceptional; I had a frantic downloading session the night before I left, when it suddenly occurred to me that ten days requires a pretty large number of words if I didn't want to have to fall back on hotel pickings, so I had a lot of good stuff to choose from.

The two really spectacular books were Teju Cole's Open City, which I loved so much that I really must write a separate post about it; and Neal Stephenson's Anathem, which I also just loved. I bought a copy of that in hardcover some time after its initial release - an ill-timed purchase, given that the paperback was about to come out, and that it is really too physically cumbersome a book to want to read in the heavier format. Also the opening 15% or so (I am a Kindle reader, the percentages are unavoidable!) is pretty awfully static; it's not unreadable, but it is the sort of thing that a less well-known writer would almost certainly have been made to cut, and I feel sure that there would have been some way to plunge much more quickly into the 'real' action of the book. But truly it is a wonderful novel; I even ended up talking about it in class yesterday (we were reading Diderot's Jacques the Fatalist and I was pondering questions about the relationship between dialogue in fiction and the philosophical dialogue - is the coincidence of the name just that, i.e. fundamentally a bit misleading, or do the two genres have something more seriously intimate to do with each other?).

I actually had some very good other books too, only they are slightly diminished by the dauntingly awesome nature of these two. I loved Lauren Beukes's books Zoo City (GENIUS! especially the pastiche material, and its witty and depressing reimagining of Pullman's daemons) and Moxyland. Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches is the perfect light reading; among other things, it is so very refreshing to read a book with a female scholarly protagonist who so completely and utterly rings true to my own experience of the scholarly life. Taylor Stevens' The Informationist is also fantastically perfect reading material - how can this woman just have burst out of nowhere? Really I feel she must have been writing thrillers already under another name, this one is so very perfectly crafted and so very much to my taste; but whatever the deal, it has my strongest recommendation, I found it just fantastically gripping.

Other miscellaneous novels, good in their way but not as well suited to my reading preferences: Jennifer Crusie, Faking It; Ekaterina Sedia, The House of Discarded Dreams (I think well of Sedia's books, but they are not exactly what I like - I'm not truly a Jonathan Carroll fan either, though I have read most of his books and enjoyed a few of them very much indeed - I did really enjoy what she does here with the horseshoe crabs); Robin Hobb, Dragon Keeper (led astray in this case by my panicky search for long books), Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants (this one made me think strongly of my grandmother, who would have loved it).

Hmmm - I had better get a move on with my real day, only inertia has overcome me!

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