August 2004 Reading List

Books I read this month:

Le Ton beau de Marot – Douglas Hofstadter
DH is the worst kind of nerd churned out by the American school system. A pathological need to over-achieve in every field and mistaking cleverness for wisdom. We all know him as a physics/computer science geek but here spends 700 pages trying to persuade us that he is renaissance man, so swept up in his love of languages – he speaks so so many! – and literature – he loves this little poem so so much that he simply had to translate it! And what profundity we encounter when trying to capture in one language the ideas of another. Yes, maybe but in any language Hofstadter is a nerd.

The Confusion – Neal Stephenson
There’s nothing confusing about it; several intricately woven plots expertly braided into the true history of the 1680’s & 90’s (historians may have a name for this period, I have a name for historians) following seamlessly onwards from the previous doorstopper Quicksilver. This one is a little less concerned with Natural Philosophers and a lot more messing about on boats, which get very messy, his detailed descriptions of the gruesome conditions on Barbary slave galleys or on skurvy transpacific crossings is unconfortable but gripping. One gets less of a sense of any over-arching theme behind this work (hence the title?) than that before but I suspect it sets us up well for the forthcoming final volume ‘The System of the World’ – Which I predict will feature the South Sea Bubble prominently.

Vineland – Thomas Pynchon
I first read this 14 years ago and it has defined my kind of novel ever since. In fact, I continue to find new favourite authors on the basis of Pynchon recommendations on their covers. Coming back to Zoyd Wheeler and company, I feel I’ve travelled a little farther and the zany unpredictability of his work has been surpassed by the authors he has found me. Jim Dodge and Haruki Murakami keep you guessing in more inventive ways but they both behind Pynchon in the cleverness of his sentences.

Drinking, Smoking & Screwing – Sara Nickles (ed.)An idiosyncratic collection celebrating certain vices of which I am two/thirds fond. Some seek to justify their ‘crimes’, others revel in the naughtiness and more still just get out the bottle, fire up or get down. The rude poems were the best bits.

Things Snowball – Rich Hall
After the fashion of his stage persona, he demonstrates by turns laidback serenity & scowling anger. It helps to hear his voice as you read because it’s hard to categorize the contents cos they are not exactly stories and they are not exactly stand-up routines but it did succeed in causing me involuntary laughter.

Cyrano de Bergerac – Edmond Rostand
Of course this dramatisation of the life of this C17 poet, soldier, duellist and iconoclast is highly entertaining, but it is not entirely accurate. If anything the truth is even more remarkable. If only there was a witty and intelligent book that told the real story!!!

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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