Reading List 2010 (7/65)

A new batch:

  • From Student to Scholar, Steven M. Cahn
  • Stinger, Robert McCammon
  • Panic, ed. Michael Lewis
  • The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
  • Drood, Dan Simmons
  • The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To, DC Pierson
  • House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds

Oh, Steven M. Cahn!  Why did no one tell me to read your book earlier in my academic career?  To all the future academics out there, this will help you start thinking like a professional from day one.  I don’t ordinarily list my academic reading, but this one was short, fun, accessible, and extremely practical.  With the slow death of the tenure system, it’s increasingly important for young researchers to think about whether they want to end up in academia or not, and whether or not they can hack it.  This book will help you answer those questions.

As for the rest of my reading: you can tell I was in a bad mood since I pulled some of my favorite authors off the shelf for comfort.  The Woman in White is one of my all-time favorite reads.  Drama, suspense, adventure and mystery – what’s not to like?*  And then I had to read Drood, which is Dan Simmons’ historical gothic about Wilkie Collins and his relationship with a) Dickens and b) opium.  Be warned, though!  It’s a devastating book.  Collins was not a happy man, and Simmons brings that beautifully to life.  The fantastic elements of the book are well-chosen and thoughtfully integrated into the histories of both the main characters.   Most of all, the ending will make you want to go back and re-read the whole thing immediately – something I’ve only experienced a couple of times.**

I approached The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To with some skepticism.  There’s a certain type of book that valorizes male adolescent geekiness in a way that says, “If you weren’t a geeky adolescent male, you cannot possibly be an AHHHHTIST.”  This doesn’t just leave out women, but also any guy who doesn’t buy into the commodified version of geek culture.  Fortunately, Pierson’s novel valorizes geekiness in a thoughtful, mature and inclusive way.  The main characters spend most of their time inventing a fictional world, and Pierson clearly loves them for it.  It’s that power of invention, not the signifiers of geekdom, that matters to the characters, and that redeems them in the end.  My only complaint is that Pierson reinforces the characters’ stance that women lack this primal creative force, or at least fails to undermine it in the way he authorially undermines many of the characters’ other bad ideas.  (How does he do it?  Lovingly, effectively and without being heavy-handed.  My favorite!)  Still, definitely worth reading, especially since I don’t think it’s getting much press or attention.

Also, Alastair Reynolds remains immensely hard-core.  I keep wanting to find a term for his genre.  “Future Grotesque?”  “Post-Industrial Baroque?”  It’ll come to me someday.  In the meantime, go read his stuff.  House of Suns wasn’t as devastating as some of his other work, but I think that makes it more accessible.  It’s still got his characteristic wild inventiveness, dramatic tension and sense of scale!

* Okay, what’s not to like is that the hero never figures out how amazing Marion Halcombe is, and that he’s supposed to be with her all along.  But that’s okay, because in my mind he and Laura and Marion have a delightful three-way thing going on by the end of the book.

** The Quincunx, by Charles Palliser, is the one that leaps immediately to mind.  And it’s heavily Dickensian, too.  Hmmm.

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