July 2004 Reading List

Heres’ what I read in July:

Quicksilver – Neal Stephenson
Truly monumental, the first 900 pages of his 3 tome Baroque Cycle. Vagabonds, spys and savants swash & buckle, philosophick & politick their way through the Northern Europe of 1660’s & 70’s in company of Newton, Leibnitz, Louis XIV & William of Orange. His grasp of historical detail is breath-taking (as far as I may judge. The plot blends fact and fiction with such fiendish subtlety that probably only he & Enoch Root konw how he did it.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
I had always wondered what this iconic book was about and so seeing it on someones shelves (and since it was so short) I saw for myself. Except I am not entirely clear what it wanted to say. A diverting read but populated by caricatures not characters.

Will you please be quiet, please? – Raymond Carver
Likewise, I wondered what the fuss was about the saviour of the American short-story. Now I know. His scenes are common-place, he works mininalistically in miniature. Sketching in the lightest of strokes the tiniest but most significant minutiae of every day lifes. Genius.

Orlando – Virginia Woolf
It wasn’t shit, but in the end I didn’t like it. As I explained earlier

The Newtonian Casino – Thomas Bass
A motley deck of physics and computing geeks use up an inordinate amount of their free time to try an build a computer to predict the path of a roulette ball. Easily done but of course to be any use it has to fit in the sole of your shoe & this was in the 1970’s & early 80’s before most of us even knew what a computer was and they were usually no smaller that a Winnebago. Ultimately they waste far more time and effort on this project, whilst up the road Bill Gates & Steve Jobs & so on are making the real millions. A cautionary tale.

The Anatomist – Federico Andahazi
An anti-dogmatic novel set in the Renaissance about one learned man discovering the clitoris and the Catholic establishment trying to hide it again. I said more previously

The Suicide Kit – David L. Hayles
Short stories that I imagine are supposed to be dark and witty. But while they can shade almost to very bleakest black there is little comedy. His humour falls disappointing fla. He perhaps ought to reread Alexei Sayle, Tibor Fischer & even god help us Will Self to see how macabre can be done with true joie d’vivre. Hmm.. maybe that’s why it’s called the Suicide Kit.

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
It’s funny because it’s true! And because Raoul Duke has a wicked way with words and firm grasp of the absurd.. Though it is a damning indictment of me that I got more enjoy of reading this book last weekend than I did re-enacting (quite accurately) parts of it this. Adrenochome is needed!

The Man who Tasted Shapes – Richard CytowicNothing to do with Hunter S. Thompson though strong psychedelics do recreate some sense of what synaesthesia is like (or so i’m told.) Sadly, Cytowic lacks the storytelling ability of Dr Thompson or Dr. Oliver Sacks or of course of Luria. His descriptions of the vivid multi-sensory world of people who hear in colour or taste in shape isn’t vivid or multi-sensory and his own ego is somewhat overbearing. His later chapters of speculative psychology are astute to appreciate importance of the limbic system but too flimsy to resemble a research program.

Grammars of Creation – George Steiner
As Rousseau said of St. Augustine, Steiner is so far up his own arse that it is any wonder that he can’t see beyond the end of his own nose and talks nothing but shit. I hated this book from the opening page but read it to the end to indulge my indignation. He is the worst kind of intellectual, filling page after page with empty eloquence, meandering from one allusion to another, littering the way with lofty name-droppings and opaque & untranslated quotes in the original french, german or latin. On a typical page he might mention Aristotle, the Bible, the Bard, Bacon, Luther, Newton, the new physics & Derrida. He does not explain why they are relevant to his ‘thesis’, that should be obvious to ‘le tout monde’! He doesn’t tell you what they said much less why but expects you to have read, remembered and interpreted the whole Classical Canon exactly as he so clearly has. So one may learn nothing from his book that you didn’t know already except his opinion on the Grammars of Creativity. Except that his opinions are much much less than the sum of their parts. Pompous preening cunt!

The Magic Toyshop – Angela Carter
As an early work by the author of the superlative Nights at the Circus, it is less linguistically & sytlistically exhuberent but it seems more personal. I don’t know how autobiographical the 15 year old heroine is. Clearly her sorry situation is a fantastical invention but her reactions as she comes of age feel very real.

It was a good month!

About caspar

Caspar is just one monkey among billions. Battering his keyboard without expectations even of peanuts, let alone of aping the Immortal Bard. By day he is an infantologist at Birkbeck Babylab, by night he runs BabyLaughter.net
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