Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tabloid treasures

A very good piece at the FT by Marek Kohn (site registration required, but if you do not register you will miss the picture of the "merman chimera"...) on the Wellcome Trust's collection of curiosities. It is accompanied by a fantastic slideshow.

I survived my 10K swim this morning; the water was full of chop and the buoys kept shooting all over the place in misleading directions, but it was very enjoyable taken in sum. I can now hardly lift my arms above my shoulders!

Finished the Neal Stephenson book this afternoon. It is enjoyable, but not so much my cup of tea: I think so highly of some of his books that this one has to count as something of a disappointment. I think the fact is that for thrillers, I really prefer either first-person or third-person limited narration, and see no reason for an absolutely enormous cast of characters: there is some serious redundancy here, at least if you consider the book from the point of view of the Lee Child-Dick Francis school of thriller-writing, a school I obviously admire (perhaps partly because my own cast of thought is more clearly Stephensonian than Childish or Franciscan). There are three separate pairs of young man-young woman who basically end up all blending together: it really is true of the men as well as the woman (older-generation protagonist Richard is by far the most fully realized character), but it is particularly problematic for me as a reader in the case of the women. I wanted to press a copy of Taylor Stevens's The Informationist into Stephenson's hands to show him what can be done in this vein. This may, though, really be primarily a function of genre preference: I don't think the Stieg Larsson books are perfect, but they are so very much what I like in terms of light reading that I can forgive them their implausibilities, wish-fulfilling aspects and other excesses. There is some very good writing here, lots of funny and sharp observations very effectively phrased (his prose style is as Gary Lutz might say "tractional, load-bearing" but with interesting word choice and an excellent ear for a phrase), and I feel certain that the book will appeal profoundly to those who have ever played role-playing games, table-top or computer-based!

Swimming and Stephenson were both good for mental health, but though I did a couple hours of work-related stuff today as well, I still have a huge amount to get done tomorrow for Monday - the semester is well and truly underway...

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