Goose the Blog 2.0

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stop the madness: 30 second book reviews

by John at 2/08/2005 04:24:00 PM

Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino
Okayyy, let's see what I can do with this. Marco Polo tells his employer, Kublai Khan, about all the strange and wonderful cities he's visited in Khan's empire. Except that most likely, he never visited any of them, they do not actually exist, and Polo and Khan aren't even talking. They may not even be in the same place. High concept, short, don't try too hard to understand it. Calvino is a legend, so give it a shot.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
Here's a sort of alternate history of Georgian England where magic, long recognized and studied, but long lost to practical use, is making a resurgence in popularity thanks to Mr Norrell. Norrell is England's first practicing magician in centuries, and in his haste to find powerful friends in British government, he makes a mistake that sets in motion a series of events that will change the nature of the world. It's a good book, but it moves too slowly sometimes. It's a long one and you may have to try not to get distracted.

The Prophet - Khalil Gibran
Another short book! This is (I read) supposedly a metaphor for Gibran's journey from New York back to his birthland, Lebanon. I don't know about that, but it certainly demonstrates a marked spiritual or religious humanism, as The Prophet imparts his wisdom to the people of his adopted land on the eve of his departure. I understand this is a classic, so check it out.

Mind Wide Open - Steven Johnson
This was a really enjoyable book on cutting edge neuroscience for the layperson. Like Emergence, Johnson adds enough technical detail to keep it interesting but not so much that it feels like a textbook. It is totally chockful of really neat ideas and you will say something like "Oh, yeah. Cool!" or "That has totally happened to me" often. And if you're not careful you just might learn something, hey hey hey!

Little, Big - John Crowley
This book was a lot of work for me, and I totally slogged through the first half of it just because I wanted to like it, not because I did like it. It is a multigenerational tragi-drama-comedy that follows the adventures of a family beset by the machinations faeries. Don't worry, I'm not giving away anything. Anyway, it picks up in the second half and I finally started to actually like it, not just want to like it. Pretty good, pretty long, and guess what? The ending doesn't make any sense to me, but that is OK (I think that may even be one of the themes of the story!).

The Futurological Congress: From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy - Stanislaw Lem
Oh, Ijon Tichy, what troubles you get into! Tichy is a recurring character in stories by Stanislaw Lem, the brilliant Polish SF writer (e.g. Solaris - book better than either movie, Fiasco, Peace on Earth, and many etc). This time, he is attending the Eighth Futurological Congress in Costa Rica on an angry and overcrowded Earth. A revolution breaks out, and the cops break out the psychotropic crowd-control drugs. Then it gets really crazy, and Tichy exposes a future world of "Matrix"-like layers upon layers of drug-fueled deceit. Creepy and brilliant. Lem is famous (or should be) for his word play (translating him from Polish must be hard!), which might seem a little cutesy to some, but I like it. Short, so read it, and then read some other Lem too.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking - Malcolm Gladwell
This is pretty interesting book, but it pales for me in comparison with Mind Wide Open. Gladwell writes about the power and problems of subconscious, non-analytical thinking. Hunches, prejudice, bias, reflex, and a whole lot of things like that. He does a little in the way of technical explanation, but focuses mainly on telling stories about how non-analytical thinking has affected certain people, e.g. saved lives. Thankfully, he is not slow to point out the problems with this kind of thinking, either, and yet I still fear that business managers will soon be telling us worker bees that this or that plan just doesn't "feel right" while using this book to justify their laziness to themselves.

Plum Island - Nelson Demille
My first summer-beach-thriller! Unless you count bad Crichton as summer-beach-thriller material. You do? OK, my first enjoyable summer-beach-thriller! I read it during our recent cruise. This is a story about a NYPD detective who, while convalescing on Long Island, gets involved in solving the murders of two of his friends and neighbors, who happen to be research biologists at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. Scary terrorist stuff, or is it? It's pretty fun and fast, but a little too wisecracky for me, and the going-on-fifty recently divorced cop who is smarter than almost anyone else on the planet keeps hooking up with beautiful women fifteen years younger than himself. Nice world, if you can live in it.

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Blogger Bill said at 8:55 PM

I'm in the middle of Little Big madness also, not quite at bthe half way point. I keep hoping that things will come together more. Also the language is a little too flowery and victorian for me.    

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