Paul’s Current Reading

2 Feb 2005

Paul R. Potts

I used to be able to read about seven books simultaneously and make progress on all of them, keeping a stack by my bed and picking one out as the mood took me. I’m a little more tired these days, especially after cleaning up the kitchen and helping to get Isaac and baby Veronica to bed, but still managing to make slow progress on a few books. This is what is in the pile today:

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

This is a hefty fantasy novel. The tone and the overall conceit: that magic is real, but has fallen into disrepute and deperately needs a revival, in early 19th-century England. I love the way she puts together archaic usage. I like the few, dark, and evocative illustrations. I love the digressions told through extensive footnotes. I love the magic: subtle and clever, and far from stereotypical of the genre; very original; it feels somehow true. But the book is starting to drag, and I don’t think I’m even yet halfway through it. It is a long story with many subplots. The jury is still out on whether I can reconcile this feeling of length with my enjoyment of the story. Maybe I just need to stick to shorter fare while so much is going on.

The Knight by Gene Wolfe

Part of the Wizard Knight series of two books. I’m a Wolfe fan; I’ve read the Book of the New Sun books, including The Urth of the New Sun, at least three or four times, and have also read many of his one-off novels including Free Live Free and Pandora by Holly Hollander (that’s the title). He writes great short stories, too. I was disappointed, though, by the Long Sun books; they didn’t seem to have the depth of The Book of the New Sun, and the story seemed derivative of Phoenix Without Ashes, Harlan Ellison’s screenplay for The Starlost, published as a novel in collaboration with Edward Bryant. So far, though, The Knight does not disappoint me. The prose is incredibly tight and evocative. It’s written in very short chapters, which works well with the current chunks of time I have available to read. It’s like a reaffirmation of just how talented a writer Wolfe really is. I’m very impressed so far.

Radix by A.A. Attanasio

This is one of his early novels. It is a deeply strange book, filled with neologisms. It isn’t a perfectly successful novel. The anti-hero, Sumner Kagan, is a multiple killer, but somehow we are expected to see him redeemed. The neologisms and world-building comes thick and fast, and a lot of it is just too far out there; some strange takeoffs on demonic posession and Zen Buddhism. But the writing is compelling and intriguing and the story, if you can follow it, is at least interesting. I’ve read this before, but I picked it up again wondering if it would make a little more sense this time. It does, but the ending is still a bizarre mishmash of Kafka and Christ, and I’m having trouble getting through the last few pages. The other books that are part of the Radix “tetralogy,” (although they have nothing in particular in common) include Arc of the Dream, Last Legends of Earth, and In Other Worlds. All three are pretty decent, sometimes great, but very different. I should check out his older book Solis. His later work did not look at all interesting to me, but I’m always prepared to be convinced otherwise.

The Broken God by David Zindell

Zindell wrote Neverness, a standalone novel, and then a trilogy that served as a follow-on; this is the first book of the trilogy. This is big space opera, and detailed world-building in the long “billdungsroman” tradition. I’m re-reading the set. Somehow his main character, Danlo, is very appealing. I’ve always been a sucker for transcendent, extropian-style stories. Zindell now seems to be writing fantasy, which didn’t look interesting, but again I’m always prepared to be convinced otherwise.B

The Complete Roderick by John Sladek

This is a pair of novels, newly published under one cover. They are deeply satirical, and the characters are fantastic. It reminds me so far of Kurt Vonnegut, but with a more vivid and less dry style.

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

I love Stephenson’s writing, including his non-fiction articles for Wired, and I enjoyed Cryptonomicon a lot. This one, I’m sorry to say, is getting the better of me. I may have to set it aside and start over later. I think it is an amazing story, and I love in particular the scenes in which Shaftoe goes mad and starts hallucinating a musical comedy; it reminds me of the Circe chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses. But I’m starting to lose track of what is going on, and I’ve set it aside for too long. By the time I get back to it, maybe the next two will be out in softcover.

What We Do Now by Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians (editor)

A book of essays on the state of America after the 2004 election. A good antidote to the despair I feel listening to the 2005 State of the Union speech.

The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Christopher Tolkien

I have decided to add to my library the entire 12-volume History of Middle Earth. I’ve picked at it over the years and considered reading the books, but it seems that I’m finally ready, and can extract a lot of reward from the fragments and their history. I’ll put some more about these books under the Tolkien topic heading. I have purchased the first five volumes, which cover the writings prior to the Lord of the Rings. I’ll probably purchase the rest sometime this coming month.

I’m also working my way through The Fellowship of the Ring, which I’m reading portions of, aloud, as a bedtime story for Grace, Veronica, and Isaac. We’re in the house of Tom Bombadil, which is particularly fun to read out loud, especially after the somewhat slow descriptions of the countryside and landscape that cause the first half of Fellowship to drag a little bit.

Finally, I also have Paul Graham’s On Lisp in the stack. The book is out of print, although allegedly it will be reprinted soon, but until then Graham has made the PDF available on his web site, so rather than pay $100 or more for a used copy, I took the PDF file to Kinko’s and had a copy printed out and bound. I’ve been studying Graham’s examples of the use of continuations. I feel like I understand them better, although this is the kind of thing that will not be really useful until I play with the code.

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