Monday, March 29, 2010

Life Changing. Really.

I know I sound like and annoying convert, but I Am a Strange Loop, a book of philosophy by Richard Hoffstadter (the author of Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid), was a fairly mind-blowing and life-changing experience for me. As one who’s attempted to read his earlier landmark work (GEB) a number of times and failed each time, I was happy to find that this new book is a reworking of the same core thesis, made clearer and more succinct.

Why was it so special? Well, Hoffstadter provides a wonderful way to understand how we think of our selves (and he explains that the title of the book is more correct as "I Is a Strange Loop"), how we have consciousness, and how we internalize other people. He's not working at the bio- or electro-chemical level, but at the epistemological and philosophical level. If you've ever been fascinated and confounded by the question, "Why am I me?", then this is the book for you.

Finally! A Good Gay Romance

Like Gabaldon’s Lord John series, Tigers and Devils offers some things I rarely see in combination. With Gabaldon is was a gay historical novels, this time it’s modern Aussie culture and a good gay romance. Oh, and some Aussie Rules Footy. Sean Kennedy does a great job of creating a believable story that’s good fun, emotionally engaging, and quite witty. There are a occasional clumsy moments in the writing, but these pale in comparison to the enjoyment of reading this book. And don't be turned off by the cheesy lettering on the cover, it doesn't do justice.

And I've put his next book, Dash and Dingo, on my Amazon Wish List. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Something I Didn't See Coming

Somewhere in the landscape between Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, lies Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn't See Coming. With spare, succinct writing, Amsterdam creates a full, if dyspeptic world, though not nearly as brutal as McCarthy’s. The book is made up of chapters that could each be a short story, but nevertheless work as a novel. Plenty there to chew on and then it sticks to your ribs.

And I didn't see it coming? Steve is an old friend of mine from college, but we've been in touch much in recent years. What a pleasure to see this come out and be so good. Cheers Steve!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Simon Winchester: Not Quite Overrated

I recently read Winchester's A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906,which I had purchased at the SF airport on my way back to Seattle. Having A) started my Winchester appreciation with the phenomenalThe Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary,B) lived in San Francisco for 5 years, including experience the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, and C) still living in earthquake country and having a somewhat unhealthy interest in them, I was sure to like the book, right? Not quite. It seems that since his success with The Professor and the Madman, The Map That Changed the World,and then Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883,Winchester'd gotten a little too chatty and fascinated with his own part of the story. The trend started with Krakatoa but got worse with The Crack in the Edge of the World. There are many fascinating things in the book, but he kept taking long diversions to talk of his experiences rather than the history or science. Let's just say, this is one more example where a good editor should have stood up against an author's ego. Sigh.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fleck + Ward = Sollee

If you're a fan of Bela Fleck and/or M. Ward, you'll probably like Ben Sollee's new album Learning to Bend. Sollee plays cello using both traditional and very creative methods and has a sweet voice to go along with it. His style is a combination of folk and pop but avoids the over-earnest sound of guys like Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews.

Diana Gabaldon's Lord John

Gabaldon's "Outlander" series of historical novels are quite popular and I will get to them one day. In the meantime, I've been really enjoying the three books about a spin-off character from "Outlander" named Lord John. Lord John is a gay warrior/aristocrat in 17th century London. There are currently two novels, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade and Lord John and the Private Matter and a book of novellas and a short story: Lord John and the Hand of Devils.

I'm a big fan of historical fiction and to have a gay themed series is double plus good.

I don't think it matters which volume you start with--they were written out of chronological order--but you'll probably want to read them all (I got my husband hooked already). Gabaldon has promised a fourth volume, Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner and I can't wait. Unfortunately, she says that it will be the last of the series.

Two Real-Life Dysfunctional Families Makes for Great Reading (and not A. Burroughs's)

Jesus Land: A Memoir. And you thought your family was dysfunctional. That author Julia Scheeres is able to come out of this sane is a testament to her character. Her parents were complete nuts whose idea of parenting was to issue orders through the house intercom (providing the only interruption in the Christian music usually on the system). This, at times harrowing, book covers about 10 years during which white Scheeres and her adopted black brother lived in rural and race-ignorant Indiana and then a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. Of course, the kids didn’t need reforming, the parents did.

Alison Bechdel’s Fun House is a dark comedy in the form of a graphic novel. I was a bit hesitant about picking this one up as I’m not a huge fan of graphic novels, but in the 80’s and early 90’s I was a big fan of her “Dykes to Watch Out For” comic strip This is her first graphic novel and it’s a polished, mature book that has all the engagement and depth of a traditional novel, or perhaps, a novella.