March 19th, 2009

Reading List 2009 (11/33)

Some past reading:

The Virgin Heiresses, Ellery Queen
Swan Song, Robert McCammon
The Best of Eric Frank Russell, Eric Frank Russell
Lady Killer, Lisa Scottoline
Blasphemy, Douglas Preston
Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne
Payback, Margaret Atwood
The Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff
A Flaw in the Blood, Stephanie Barron
The Best American Mystery Stories 2008, ed. George Pelecanos
Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, Leanne Shapton

Goodness, I’ve somehow failed to update this in ages. I think that’s for two reasons. First, I’m working on my dissertation damn hard (yay!). Second, I’m actually blogging about it over at Making Games, so when I make a new post that’s got to have first priority.

Still, why wouldn’t I want to take a few moments to rant about books? Ah, books. And you know it’s a good batch when almost two months later, I’m having trouble deciding which ones to write about at length.

A lot of these books came up from the bowels of my collection when I decided that I had to go hunting for Swan Song. (It was all the way in the back, under a bunch of other things I decided I had to read or re-read!) I’d read Swan Song a number of years ago, but I found some of the imagery so powerful and striking that it’s never let me go. McCammon envisions a nuclear apocalypse that, as with King’s The Stand, turns into a battle of good versus evil across a ruined America. McCammon’s villains, though, are shockingly sympathetic; while they do horrific things, McCammon puts them through enough awful experiences of their own that one can read them as terribly broken rather than virulently nasty. McCammon also picks powerful moments, characters and images to emphasize. The one that made me go hunting for the book? Air Force One riding high above the whirling, boiling clouds of death.

I had to re-read the Eric Frank Russell when I found it, too, because my dad had recommended it to me a few years ago. Some of the stories rely on a clever trick (”Jay Score,” for example) and don’t stand up particularly well to re-reading. But in general, Russell’s ironic voice and his cutting impatience with hogwash keep the stories feeling shockingly fresh. “Metamorphosite,” for example, takes on how empires run and where they’re vulnerable - doubly relevant in this age of terrorism. “Allamagoosa” skewers bureaucracy equally well, and is damn funny to boot.

Payback is a thoughtful, witty and erudite trip through everyone’s favorite topic these days, debt. Atwood takes a writer’s perspective on the topic, unpacking what we really mean when we talk about debt and lacing her argument with wonderful vignettes drawn both from literature and life. I’ve found some of her fiction self-obsessed and self-indulgent; here, though, Atwood is at her best. Highly recommended.

Finally, when I was a kid I used to dream about being Phineas Fogg. Who wouldn’t want to be a supremely competent yet casually heroic globe-trotter? But wow, upon rereading as an adult, I’ve discovered that the guy is a dick. I think Philip Jose Farmer wrote a counter-text to the book; I’ve got to dig it up and see what he makes of it.

Book-a-Day? Nah …

According to my informal count, I’ve read 72 books so far in 2009; today is the 78th day of the year, so I’m six books behind. Not that I’m trying to manage a book a day this year. That would be doom. Really. Doom. I would like to graduate eventually, thanks very much.