Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wednesday miscellany

The second paragraph of this piece was so extraordinarily vicious that I read to the end with a kind of enthralled fascination! I have no reason to disagree with its verdict, and I too am rendered extraordinarily irritable by slack writing, but it has also always seemed to me that it is bad for the soul to write a review of this ilk very often...

At, Fabio Fernandes on translating A Clockwork Orange into Brazilian Portuguese.

A countdown of the hundred best fantasy and science-fiction novels?

The syllabus for Matthew Kirschenbaum's graduate seminar on simulations.

Last but not least: Charlie Williams prefers typecasting to podcasting.

This week's mostly all about catching up on miscellaneous medical appointments (nothing major), rehearsing for Tino's Guggenheim piece and trying to sort out a good exercise routine - not doing so well on the last front, but it is a work in progress. The other major activity is a massive reading binge - at the humane society charity shop in Cayman, one of the volumes I picked up was Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolo Rising. I liked Dunnett's mystery novels very much when I was a teenager, but her historical ones never held much appeal for me, despite my dear friend E.B.T.'s enthusiastic advocacy of them during our grad school years. But long is good when it comes to charity-shop light reading, and though I wouldn't say it's my perfect light reading (also it suffers from the unfortunate juxtaposition with Hilary Mantel's really brilliant Wolf Hall!), I certainly enjoyed the first installment enough to go and check out volumes two through seven from the Barnard Library yesterday.

(Where, by the way, I ran into a colleague of mine who is also doing Tino's piece - and as we discussed it, the young lady behind the library checkout counter exclaimed, "Are you doing Tino's piece? So am I!" It is a cast of thousands!)

There is something truly lovely and addictive about reading through a huge series in a relatively small amount of time. I read Lian Hearn's trilogy like that; Susan Howatch is perhaps my most recent long immersive series-reading experience, at least the one that comes most strongly to mind; but I was reminded as I plucked Dunnetts from the shelf of how I held out for a long time against the Aubrey-Maturin novels and then read the first one and basically couldn't really do anything else until I had read all of them - every day I went to Cross-Campus Library at Yale and checked out another armful or four or five of them and took them home and read them all, four or five days later I was done and wished I had eked them out for longer, but it was well worth it!

(On which note, I will conclude by adding that Vikram Seth is writing a sequel to A Suitable Boy, another long book I read in fits of transport...)


  1. I'm astonished you're not a Dunnett reader given the tastes you display in your Light Reading. If you found Aubrey/Maturin addictive, you're in for some serious pleasure with Dunnett's historicals, which are in an altogether other class from her mysteries.

    I'm very fond of her House of Niccolo (which BTW is 8 novels, not 7) and its hero, but nothing can compare with her six-book Lymond Chronicles. An action-packed emotional roller-coaster ride through the Courts of the HIgh Renaissance - politics, diplomacy, spies, wars and high-stakes intrigue, dysfunctional families, and romance, with the Greatest Screwed-up Marches-to-his-own-drum semi-Byronic Hero EVAH!

    Each book in the Lymond Chronicles is structured differently - the first a clockwork mystery, the second a James Bond-style spy story, etc. But they're all part of what is really a single novel that follows the hero over a decade of adventures and psychic turmoil, and never lets up. House of Niccolo and Aubrey/Maturin are leisurely travelogues by comparison.

    The world-building is rich and confident, the prose is splendid, the dialogue is from laugh-out-loud funny to gutwrenching, the historical details are impecable, the characters unforgettable, and her suspense tricks, with sleights-of-hand and misdirections galore, are masterful. It's also technically a narrative tour de force -- an intriguing, complex psychological portrait built up over six books that's achieved without letting the reader inside the hero's head but for a handful of moments -- all show, not tell. Very cinematic. The series is a rare combo of deliciously meaty and enormously fun.

    And I'm delighted to hear there's a follow-up to A Suitable Boy!

  2. I didn't even get to the second paragraph, I was so struck by the title! And, speaking of series, have been meaning to ask you if you've read the Outlander books?

  3. Kirschenbaum: he sounds interesting and he poses thoughtful questions and is assigning readings that look mind-blowing, and though I would like to listen to a lecture by him or read a piece by him, I can imagine this particular graduate course being an epic nightmare. It sounds like the type of thing that Spivak was alluding to when she said that a certain type of
    cavalier interdisciplinarity "creates pretensiousness in graduate students." (As if there is not enough pretensiousness to go around!)

    As an anti-technologist who doesn't understand any of this stuff, I'm off to read Wodehouse's Paris Review interview.