reading 2010: vol 3

Went on a tear reading a bunch of very short novels to flush something else through my head after writing the new non-fiction book, then was a bit brain-zonked for a week following the wisdom teeth coming out, so  there’s a general dearth of heavy thinking stuff in this pile…

Change Your Life in Seven Days – Paul McKenna
Picked this up from the library on a whim. Found it mildly surreal that it was basically an extremely cleverly packaged selection of watered down NLP techniques. The hypnosis CD it comes with is pretty epic though. And it made a fascinating counterpoint to the draft I was writing.

Death in Venice – Thomas Mann
Short novel in which an old writer goes to Venice and falls obsessively in love with a young boy. From that literary era which seems to take for granted a complete classical education that no longer exists, and without which it seems a touch futile. I would however quite like to read Mann’s Magic Mountain.

The God Engines – John Scalzi

A short novel. Gave it a go ‘cos it was that guy from that blog. Didn’t think much of the writing or characters, but some of the ideas and delivery were striking, and some parts have stayed with me in a surprising way. Uniquely twisted.

Sun After Dark – Pico Iyer
Almost meta-travel writing, delving into the psychology of places, exploration and travel as much as it focuses on the places he goes. Pretty choice. Beautiful, brilliant, some of the most relevant coming to terms with the modern world going.

Eeeee Eee Eeee – Tao Lin
Extremely minimalist, fairly bizarre exploration of loneliness, depression and pointlessness, with many dolphins and bears. Struck me as the author actually being a bit fucked up and coping through his writing (which it turns out was much how he viewed it on his blog). A fast read. Fun in its own way. Definitely nothing else quite like it.

A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood

Brilliantly observed and realised short novel about a gay man coping with the death of his partner in a socially restricted 60s America. Hard to imagine a film of it, since it is so internal to the character’s head, and so much resides in the descriptions of the narrative voice. My first Isherwood. Won’t be the last.

The City and the City – China Mieville.

Haven’t read anything of his since Perdido St Station, which I remember being a lot of fun. Anyhow, the city… was cool, and probably  deserves the awards it is collecting left right and centre. A straight thriller in a far from straight urban fantasy setting – the tale of two conjoined cities – coexisting in space and time in an otherwise contemporary Europe – which socially and politically cannot acknowledge each other’s existence, to the point that they must Unsee each other. The occasional clunker of a sentence, but the ideas are awesome. The reveal of the Breach was cute. Reflecting on it today, enjoying what it says about the power of the human mind, and what we don’t let ourselves see, and all the unspoken rules that constrain us. Good shit.

The Carpet Makers – Andreas Eschbach

German SF writer. Amusing, heartbreaking, demented; uses a series of tangentially connected short stories to tell a minor tale of an empire beyond appeciable scale. Inventive, fun. Also: best emperor ever.

Was hankering for something for my brain after all that, so started (and am currently most of the way through) the mammoth

Philosophies of India – Heinrich Zimmer

which is pretty much the best conceivable introduction to the subject, and is unspeakably brilliant and amazing. In the course of explaining the philosophy he explains the culture out of which it sprang, since they cannot be separated. Highlights so far are illustrating thousands of years old political philosophy with reference to the then contemporary WWII, and managing to make the practice of suttee (widows throwing themselves on their husband’s funeral pyres) explicable and logically inevitable. Deals with the tangled interrelations of the various streams of Indian philosophy and generally makes everything very intelligible, though it is a certain amount of work. On the whole it is a little hard to grasp how a cultural mindset so different from ours is going to interact with the coming century; a fascinating grounding anyway. Hugely recommended if you want a book on Indian philosophy. And frankly, in general, if you like to think:  the opening line is “We of the Occident are about to arrive at a crossroads that was reached by the thinkers of India some seven hundred years before Christ.”

Somewhere in the middle of it I took a break and read

Song Of Kali – Dan Simmons

A world fantasy award winner from way back; girding that line between fantasy and horror. Tight, gripping, dense with the otherworldiness of India. Couched in terms of the stuff I have read about India, it felt grounded and real. Exotic, nasty, satisfying. Good shit.

Weird to read so much fiction in a burst. Fun but a little empty. HAve ordered some mind-bending stuff off the interwebs though…

6 Responses to “reading 2010: vol 3”

  1.   michael
    May 19th, 2010 | 6:27 pm

    The trailer for A Single Man makes it look like a movie in which a man (i.e. the book’s protagonist) has an affair with the female lead.

  2.   billy
    May 19th, 2010 | 6:42 pm

    Yeah, the copy I read was a movie tie-in edition, and I was really confused by the cover imagery for half the book. Given what it is, I can see how they would sell it like that. Can’t really comment specifically without epic spoilers. It does seem like a strange choice to adapt for film though.

  3.   Pearce
    May 21st, 2010 | 4:36 pm

    Multiple people have pimped the movie to me, but after this I think I should read the book first.

    Did I recommend Song of Kali, btw? It’s one of my all-time favourite horror novels. Dark, dark, dark and shattering.

  4.   billy
    May 21st, 2010 | 4:51 pm

    Song of Kali came via many recommendations over the years, one of which was yours, probably… took ages to track down a copy in lieu of the library having it. Read it in an evening.

    Oh, and you’d probably find at least parts of the Pico Iyer book really interesting, if only for the people who he hangs out with. (eg) Leonard Cohen at a zen buddhist retreat, the Dalai Lama (who he has known for years and met repeatedly), etc. Dude gets around.

  5.   Andrew
    May 24th, 2010 | 7:22 pm

    Yeah, the film is good, says someone who read the book first. And yeah, the trailer may give the wrong impression. Nothing new in the world of movie promo. Reading the back of the DVD of Brokeback Mountain, you’d think Heath and Jake’s relationship was like Auteuil and Daroussin’s in Conversations with my Gardener.

  6.   Pearce
    October 13th, 2010 | 1:57 pm

    I saw the film adaptation of A Single Man last week, and thought it was flat-out brilliant. Really must read the book now, but as just a movie it’s amazing how deep it gets into the protagonist’s head. Hard to believe that it was a first-time writer/director.