There’s a phrase that gets used very often: “to stop and think.”
But ask yourself, when was the last time that you really did that? When was the last time you really stopped and focused all of mental efforts on one thing?
Anathem by Neal Stephenson, is about just that. What happens when you take the thinkers of the world and allow them to seclude themselves from all other worldly distractions and really focus on thinking?
The Blurb from the Back
Fraa Erasmus is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathemeticians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside “saecular” world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent’s walls. Three times during history’s darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmus has no fear of the outside – the Extramuros – for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.
I have a nasty habit.
When something new comes out that I’m excited about, I build up my expectations to the point the that the actual thing could never meet those expectations.
My friends still ridicule me over my hatred for the Mission: Impossible movie. I had expected so much out of this movie, that when it didn’t deliver, I was extremely disappointed. Many people have told me that the movie wasn’t great, but that it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be either.
I was excited for Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Exile. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I thoroughly enjoyed Ender’s Game and was hoping this book would be a worthy sequel.
Perhaps my expectations were too high. In any case, this book did not meet them.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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
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.
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.