Readings: Vowell, Liu

Personal kerfuffle in my life still has not settled, and so there was little time for reading and writing, and even things like Twitter and other social interaction have fallen by the wayside. I need this month to be over, out like a lamb or however it would like to go.

I have re-read Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. Rather, I re-listened to it, because her audiobooks are narrated by herself and a crew of various star guests (like Nick Offerman as George Washington), which makes them more like audio play productions. It is excellent.

three bodyOther reads were on the speculative fiction side, the first one being Third Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu. It got a lot of buzz and love last year, but it happened during the time when I briefly fell out of love with hard sci-fi. Third Body Problem reads like science fiction from the Golden Age, eager to cram all of the science and ideas inside. It reads stilted, emotions plainly explained, all character motivations delineated, everything over-described. And therein lies my beef with Third Body Problem. It’s not that I need a pure ‘show don’t tell’ approach, but I need my science fiction to be more of a novel and less of a guidebook. I don’t think it’s translation. Perhaps this is just Cixin Liu’s style. Sadly, I will never know, Chinese being one of languages I am not going to master in this lifetime.

And yet it is not a terrible book. In fact, it is rather smart in its ideas and connections. I wanted to keep reading despite being annoyed by the style, and I do not regret finishing it (that’s the kind of blurb you want for your novel, ‘did not regret finishing’). I might even read the second one (The Dark Forest), if only to see how different it is with a different translator.

And now I am off to finish Rob Spillman’s memoir, All Tomorrow’s Parties, a book that feels familiar even though his life is quite different from mine. Next after that, Joe Hill’s Fireman, out in May. Quite excited about this one.

Readings: Non-fiction, again

liebermanIt’s been somewhat slow in terms of reading and writing here. It’s partly work, partly the fact that what Warren Ellis calls The Great Winter Hermitage is approaching again, and I seem to be saving all the reading and writing for times when I really won’t want to leave the house. My reading now, oddly enough, is done mostly while I’m out and about, as I am still in the non-fiction audio book phase. I did Dewey’s readathon last Saturday and finished listening to The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge while doing a half-marathon through the park (way to overachieve, I say). Now I’m listening to Daniel Lieberman’s The Story of the Human Body, which is forcing me to learn quite a bit about something I oddly never particularly cared about, namely, various ancient hominids and what hunter-gatherers were up to. Lieberman is mainly interested in how evolution has affected our bodies and therefore our health. Spoiler alert: he thinks we should eat fewer donuts and walk more miles, but he also explains pretty well why it’s hard to overcome the impulse to sit on the couch instead. He makes a point that while we can ask what it is that the human body has evolved to do, we shouldn’t expect an easy, one-task answer. Much like we didn’t evolve to eat one kind of diet (he takes a few shots at modern paleo diets throughout the book). Whereas my previous audio read focused more on the brain, this one is more body-oriented (though I’m a few chapters away from the finish line).

ruhlI also just finished Sarah Ruhl’s 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write. This is the perfect book if you don’t have time to read, either. As advertised, it has one hundred essays, Chekhovian in their brevity, but somehow containing within humor, profundity, life advice, and theatre critique all at once. Read this little book if you love theatre or if you hate theatre. Read it if you love children or don’t want any children around. Read it if you are a dramaturg, or if you have no idea what ‘dramaturg’ means. Just read it. It will either take you a couple of hours or weeks, depending on your reading speed and the number of children you have.

Readings: alternate formats

I spent a few days dog-sitting for a couple of friends this week, and discovered that walking dogs is great for catching up on podcasts. It was so great, in fact, that I pretty much listened to everything on my list and ran out of audio material. Luckily, I then remembered that I wanted to give audio books a second chance. Audio fiction never works for me — I get distracted for five minutes, and in those five minutes ten characters die and I get confused. So I tried non-fiction, and it worked pretty well. It’s as if someone is narrating knowledge into your brain as you go about some mindless task.

accidental universeI listened to Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe, which came out a couple of years ago and was very well liked by someone at work whose reading taste I trust implicitly. It’s a pretty short book, but Lightman manages to touch upon the latest theories in physics, conflict between science and religion, philosophy, and what technology might be doing to human interactions with the world and each other. The latter was the point where I actually disagreed and even disliked his view of personal technology and its uses. It even struck me as privileged, for want of a better word, to grump about increase in texting and people spending a lot of time online. Sure, it’s annoying when everyone you’re having dinner with is checking their phones every two minutes, but think about any of these: texting allowing easier communication where it was nonexistent or limited before (see deaf community); cell phones allowing people who otherwise would have trouble keeping track of time or organizing their day to have a more scheduled life; online allowing me to find people like myself. And honestly, maybe uploading ourselves to some virtual reality doesn’t sound so bad to those of us who are not comfortable with our bodies. I’m certain Lightman does not think personal technology is solely bad for us, but the way he presents his thoughts on it is rather one-sided.

Before this gets too ranty, let me say that it was a good book to read if you have, like Lightman, a wide array of interests that include both science and humanities and if you like to break your brain by thinking about what conditions brought about life on Earth so humans could sit around and think about what conditions brought about life on Earth.

In addition to branching out into audio books, I also got a couple of e-books to read. I have periods when I remember e-books exist, and then go months without touching a single digital copy (touching it with my uploaded body, duh). I forget e-books are a thing because I get so many physical books. I also forget that advanced copies as e-books are a thing, and a great thing at that because they don’t add to the mountains of reading material in my house. So my e-book downloads this week are as follows: All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, Y. T. by Alexei Nikitin (out next April), and The Good Death: Exploration of Dying in America by Ann Neumann. None of these are out till next year, I’m afraid, so I feel like it’s a little early to even talk about whether I like these or not (I’ve read the first one on the list so far),

There are, as always, a whole bunch of books on paper in queue as well. Prepare yourselves, for I picked up my first Star Wars book in many years…