What I'm Reading

I don't have any particularly deep thoughts about any of these books this time around. Probably because I'm writing down my thoughts months later...

Peter Watts, Blindsight. New York: Tor, 2006.

A simple tale of first contact — how do we communicate with creatures that whose minds and biology may be fundamentally incompatible with our own — is spiced up by Watts decision to turn the spotlight back on humanity, wondering how we even manage to communicate with each other. Having said that, I think Watts ultimately fails, for two reasons. First, because he goes into detail about brain chemistry and evolutionary biology in ways that take you out of the story. And second, because his posthuman characters don't feel alien — they're not as "unknowable" as they are "sketchily drawn."

But don't take my word for it — the whole available for free at Watt's website if you want to take a look.

Karen Wilkin, Color as Field: American Painting 1950-1975. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

The exhibition catalog for the exhibit I saw last month in DC. The essays putting color field painting into perspective are excellent, though I wish there was more commentary on the individual pieces.

Robert Twigger, Angry White Pyjamas. London: Indigo, 1997.

Englishman moves to Japan, has mid-life crisis, and decides to add some structure to his life by taking an intensive akido training course intended for riot police. I think this is the fourth time I've read the book — Twigger has a nice, breezy style and his subject matter is fascinating.

Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren, Comedy by the Numbers. San Francisco: McSweeney's, 2007.

You'd think a satirical book about comedy by two comedy writers would be funny. You'd be wrong.

Derek Zumsteg, The Cheater's Guide to Baseball. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

A great look into how cheating has helped shape the sport of baseball, from the unsportsmanlike tactics that emerged in the game's early days to the high-tech cheating that dominates the sports today. Zumsteg has a sort of strange admiration for successful cheaters that's mildly infectious — he makes their ingenuity and resourcefulness seem almost quintessentially American. One thing I wish the book had, though, was a more technical discussion of how some of these cheats work, because my "hard slider" needs all the saliva it can get. Er, I mean help.

Michael Moorcock, Elric: The Stealer of Souls. New York: Ballantine, 2008.

This is the second Elric book I own with the subtitle "The Stealer of Souls" and there's not that much overlap between the two as you think. This volume presents the Elric stories in publication order, starting with "The Dreaming City" and ending with "Stormbringer," while the White Wolf ombinus edition presents them in chronological order, starting with "The Sleeping Sorceress" and ending, well, with "Stormbringer." It's kind of hard not to end with "Stormbringer."

Michael Moorcock, The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius. New York: Dale, 1979.
Michael Moorcock, The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Centurey. London: Granada, 1976.

After finishing The Stealer of Souls I figured that a shelf full of Moorcock novels would make for great train reading. So, I'm gonna say it now before one of my friends says it in the comments — my recent experiences have left me with a craving for Moorcock.

Moorcock's stories are often about the end of the world, whether symbolically (Corum) or in a very literal sense (Elric). But it strikes me that his Jerry Cornelius stories are the only ones that really deal with people living through the end of the world, trying to shape it to their own ends, succeeding, failing, despairing, or even trying to cling to the remnants of the past. I suppose if I wasn't half-asleep I could make some clever analogies to the Internet revolution.

Still, The Lives and Times of Jerry Cornelius features the following passage:

Eventually Miss Brunner emerged from the wheelhouse. She was dressed as severely as ever in a Cardin trouser suit as dated as Jerry's own clothes. She held a baby in her crooked right arm, a Smith & Wesson .44 revolver in her left hand. She gave him a bent smile. "Good morning, Mr. Cornelius. So our paths come together again."

"I got your note. What's up, Miss Brunner?"

She shook her short red hair in the wind and turned her feline face down to regard the baby. "Do you like children, Mr. Cornelius?"

"It depends." Jerry moved to look at the baby and was shocked.

"It's got your eyes and mouth, hasn't it?" said Miss Brunner. She offered it to him. "Would you like to hold it?"

He took a wary step backwards. She shrugged and tossed the little creature far out over the rail. He heard it hit the water, whine, gurgle.

"I only hung on to it in case you'd want to have it," she said apologetically. "Okay, Mr. Cornelius. Let's get down to business."

How can you not love that?

Leland Gregory, Stupid History. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2007.

I was kind of hoping that this would be more than diverting bathroom reading, but no, that's all it is. Still, it's always amusing to watch a book that aims to correct "misconceptions throughout the ages" that has a few misconceptions of its own. (Chariots are useless on a battlefield? Tell that to the Hittites.)

Adrian Shaughnessey, How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005.

Because every now and then I need some practical advice.

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