Nov 15

[Review] The Diamond Age

There have been multiple science fiction novels that describe books that contain all of human knowledge. Issac Asimov had his Encyclopedia Galactica, Douglas Adams had his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and that’s only naming two. While these books were helpful in their worlds, they lacked one thing — interactivity. They still demanded that you read them.

It’s likely that if you’re reading this site, you don’t have a fear of reading in general, but wouldn’t it be great if you had a book that built it’s story around you? A book that changed every time you read it, depending on how you were feeling? A book that answered your questions almost before you asked them?

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson is a story about just such a book, and what a book like this would do in the hands of three young girls.

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Nov 11

[Review] The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow


A Welcome Discovery

The great thing about starting Bent Bindings, is that I’ve become exposed to a larger variety of books. My world of reading has definitely expanded.

I would say, too, that I had I not started this web site, I most likely never would have come across The Scoundrel Days of Hobo Highbrow by Pal H. Christiansen. It is originally a Norwegian work, recently translated into English. Given this, the odds of the book finding its way onto a local bookshelf were already slim.

While the first sentence of the book (‘Some men make a big deal of the fact that women need a bit of extra time getting ready in the morning’) would have passed my litmus test, the strange almost biblical picture on the cover and the esoteric description of the book (about a man’s obsession with the band a-ha) probably would have made me put it back on the bookstore shelf.

That would be a shame, too, because I would have missed out on a very enjoyable, very humorous reading adventure.

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Nov 06

[Review] The Secret of Lost Things

I’ve mentioned this before in earlier posts, but sometimes when I go looking for books, I pick up books I’ve never heard of. I do this mainly based on the cover, the synopsis and the first sentence of the book. If the first two get me interested, I’ll use the first sentence as the final litmus test.

In the case of The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay, all these things came together. It had a nice cover (a good picture of old books), an interesting synopsis (that described working in an ancient bookstore called The Arcade), and a great first sentence:

I was born before this story starts, before I dreamed of such a place as the Arcade, before I imagined men like Walter Geist existed outside of fables, outside of fairy tales.

So all of my usual tests came together. I picked up the book, took it home and started reading.

That was when I realized my three-pronged test wasn’t foolproof; one of the most dreadful books had slipped through.

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Nov 04

[Review] The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

“Epic” is a word that is often used when talking about literature, but one that is used to mean different things at different times. Epic is often used to talk about the time frame of a book. If it happens over generations and generations of characters, then it is Epic. Epic is also used to talk about the shear scope of a work. If it happens over a broad range of locations and characters, then it is Epic. And finally, Epic is used to describe the length of a book. If a book is almost too heavy to pick up, then it is Epic.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett falls into all these categories of the word Epic. It happens over generations of characters, large areas of the world (though it does focus on one particular area), and the size of the book could strain your arms while trying to hold it up in bed.

It is also one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had in a very long time. Continue reading

Nov 01

[Review] Down to A Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese

Some authors, when they write, attempt to hide themselves in their works. Any evidence that the work came from a certain person, or that the author’s background really played a part in the book are well hidden. However, that is not the case at all with Down to a Sunless Sea, a short story collection by Mathias B. Freese.

It is mentioned in the foreword to the book that Mr. Freese has a background in psychotherapy. This is quite evident in the stories, as each one could be considered a case study of its main character. While some of the stories are quite dark, there is also an interesting feeling of humor in them as well, as if the author is hiding a snicker as he writes the work.

It’s a bit more difficult to review a book of short stories, especially when the stories are different enough that I found myself liking some and disliking others. The start had me worried, because the first couple of stories I really felt like I wasn’t getting it. It seemed, though, that the stories matured and improved as the collection went on. There’s no evidence that the stories were put together in chronological order, but that’s the feeling I got. Continue reading

Oct 28

[Review] Jennifer Government by Max Barry

The genre of science fiction is often vilified because it takes a single subject and follows it to an extreme in order to make a point. Intelligent computers could be harmful? Look at HAL. Nuclear weapons could destroy the world? Lets write hundreds of books that examine what life would be like after an apocalyptic event.

I don’t know that I would place Jennifer Government by Max Barry firmly in the genre of science fiction, but it does fit the mold in the sense that it takes a single concept, capitalism, and takes it to its ultimate extreme. The nice thing is — it does it in an accessible, enjoyable and oftentimes hilarious adventure story.

The Story

In the not so distant future, commerce has become the ultimate king. People have given up their last names and now take as their surname the name of the company they work for. Characters such as Hack Nike, Rendell ExxonMobil and the title character, Jennifer Government, live it a world ruled by corporations and their profit motives. Schools are sponsored by Mattel, street wars start over whether you go to McDonalds or Burger King, and marketing directors plan gang style murders to create interest in their company’s products.

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Oct 25

[Review] Blindness by Jose Saramago

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. — Erasmus

Erasmus’ quote above is usually used in an allegorical way, usually after somebody says something like “Well, you know more about it than anybody else.” However, it applies quite literally to Blindness by Jose Saramago, a book that challenges its readers, but leaves them ultimately hopeful even though it is filled with darkness.

The Story

The story begins when a man waiting for a red light is suddenly struck blind. Within a few pages we find out that the sudden blindness is also highly contagious as the man manages to give it to the person who helps him home as well as the eye doctor he goes to see. The nature of the blindness is also strange, in that the person affected sees only a bright white light.

It doesn’t take long before a large group of people is affected by the blindness and the government steps in to take action against the quick-spreading plague. The people going blind are rounded up and taken to an old mental health asylum where they are quarantined. In a noble act of love for her husband, the eye doctor’s wife pretends to be blind so that she can be taken away with him.

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Oct 20

[Review] The Perks of Being a Wallflower

As a frequent visitor to bookstores, I have often taken the risk of picking up a book that I’ve never heard anything about. Many times, this results in an average, run-of-the-mill book. But on very rare occassions, you can stumble on a book that blows you away. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is one of those of books. In fact, I would venture to say that it’s the best book you’ve never read.

The Story

The story of the book follows a young man, Charlie, whose best friend, Michael Dobson, recently committed suicide. The book is written as a series of letters from Charlie to a friend (whose identity is never revealed). At the start of the book, you get the impression that most of the book is going to be about Charlie dealing with the death of his friend, but the story soon becomes more about Charlie himself and his own pursuits to fit in at high school. Charlie is the wallflower described in the title of the book. He is socially awkward, but very caring. Sensitive to everything around him, but not fully aware of what it all means.

We are quickly introduced to Patrick, a friendly football player, and Sam, a girl who Charlie is immediately attracted to. These two take Charlie under their wings and introduce him to all manner of different social events, including trips to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The remainder of the book follows the friendships’ ups and downs as Charlie tries to figure out where he belongs.

The Writing

The refreshing thing about this book is its writing. As I mentioned, it’s written as letters from Charlie. At the beginning, the letters are short and factual. As the story develops, though, and Charlie gets advice from his English teacher, the writing becomes more profound and interesting. I can’t put my finger on what makes the writing great, but the simplicity of it is part of it. Take the following quote for example,

I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss somebody someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.

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