This week’s reading:
The Collapsium, Wil McCarthy
The Wellstone, Wil McCarthy
Lost in Translation, Wil McCarthy
To Crush the Moon, Wil McCarthy
Glamorous Disasters, Eliot Schrefer
House Thinking, Winifred Gallagher
First off, I want to say that I only read Glamorous Disasters because I have a friend who does high-end SAT tutoring. It was sufficiently bad that even I, the original literary omnivore, am ashamed to admit I finished it. (But I’m OCD about finishing books! It’s not as though I liked it even a little!) I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, unless you also have a high-flying SAT tutor friend, and even then, I’d suggest you think twice. The characters are flimsy cardboard cutouts doing increasingly implausible things; the book doesn’t even succeed as the sort of “glimpse another world” fiction that’s a guilty pleasure for me. Yuck.
The rest of my reading week was top-notch, though! I didn’t expect the McCarthy books to be much good, considering how mediocre his award-winning novel Bloom was. Boy, was I wrong! He combines great world-building with thoughtful character development and a serious willingness to be hardcore. The series (quadrilogy?) explores the consequences of an immorbid society; while people aren’t immortal, technically, they can be kept alive and young as long as they receive the appropriate treatments. Of course, people being people, they don’t think about the consequences of their environmental policies or their choice to continue having children, and those choices come back to bite them in some really lovely ways. It was a little odd that the series combined almost comic-book-like tongue-in-cheek action (”Let’s go fight the supervillain in his lair!”) with serious heartbreak and social theory, but it totally worked. Definitely recommended!
House Thinking’s non-fiction - I’m trying to read more of that, but ultimately, I’m a story junkie. Fortunately for me the book’s so interesting that I hardly notice there’s no plot. Gallagher gives a room-by-room tour of the home, explaining the history, psychogeography, architectural theory, and design principles behind each room of the house. Her chapter on bedrooms, for example, talks about where people slept throughout history, and looks at what environmental factors promote sensuality and sexuality, and looks at the cultural construct of the bachelor pad, and reviews the psychological research on stimulation and serenity. It’s a lot of stuff, but she synthesizes it really well and makes it all work. I even had to take notes on some of her more interesting sources - it’s practically a reading list for environmental design!