Friday, May 24

plucked, rearranged, reviewed

this has been a significant chunk of my summer so far. books and sunshine and chocolatey beverages.

so, somewhat in the style of Nick Hornby's The Complete Polysyllabic Spree (which I have semi-emulated once before), here are my ambitious reading plans for the snippets of summer that won't be crammed full of cooking, traveling, crafting, writing, kite-flying, and spontaneous outings with friends.

books brought home from libraries:
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman
The Future of Ideas by Lawrence Lessig
The Meaning of the Body by Mark Johnson
Digital Barbarism by Mark Helprin
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

books borrowed or received from people who are not libraries:
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Invention, Copyright, and Digital Writing by Martine Courant Rife
The Complete Sherlock Holmes volumes 1 and 2 by Arthur Conan Doyle.

books read:
Cloud Atlas
Gone Girl
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

more of my eclectic reading-history-in-progress can be spied on here. I haven't finished much from the disjointed lists above--but there is still time. there is always time. friend Jacob and I are planning to get through The Orphan Master's Son in some simultaneous fashion, if he ever finds a copy. of course I've read the Conan Doyle before (this lovely new copy was a recent birthday gift). and for all those copyright- and curiosity-related leftovers, friend Kimberly may be able to buy me a few extra weeks with them from Tech's library, if I'm lucky. we'll see.

among the three I have finished--Gone Girl, Cloud Atlas, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?--I noticed themes of imbalanced power, precarious identities, and a bit of a preoccupation with what is real and what is not quite the same as real but sometimes fools everyone into thinking it's real. who are we? what are we doing here and how are we justifying it? who does it hurt or help and in what measures? why? these are huge questions (my favourite kind, you know. I do like my fiction thought-provoking, please and thank you).

three judges over at this year's Tournament of Books had the chance to read and write about Flynn's Gone Girl. Kate Bolick's quarterfinals judgement includes a few great excerpts, ending with the note that "Gone Girl, most unexpectedly, delivers a critique of our unquestioned ideas about love in a way that’s so inventive you don’t even know it’s happened until you reach the end." rounds later, during the championship, Lev Grossman cites the book's "clinical anatomization of all the various ways in which our personalities are fabrications, and all the various reasons, good and bad and really bad, why we fabricate them." I finished Gone Girl in two and a half days, and I can't stop thinking about those unquestioned definitions of love and happiness and personhood, and how the creepiness of this book highlights them so. who I think I am and who anyone else thinks I am probably never match up. who I want to be and who anyone else wants me to be is even more complicated.

friend Melanie has reviewed Cloud Atlas the novel and the film already, and she has some great thoughts on how far-reaching this book tries to be in sketching the ultimate connectedness of every single little thing. borrowing her borrowed copy, I let the book delight me with its variety, its structure and scope. the subtle and less-subtle connectednesses in these stories are reminiscent of clouds. sometimes we take all that ethereal shifting for granted. "Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future," Sonmi-451, a fabricant diner server, announces. connectedness and unity have such flawless, positive connotations--but there are costs that come with all forms of consensus, aren't there?
so many different kinds of influence.

after I noticed it on her office bookshelf and exclaimed (on the last day of classes) that I'd always wanted to read it, friend Amanda kindly lent me her copy of the very short and very classic Philip K. Dick. this book surprised me in its careful simplicity. I have no idea anymore what I'd been expecting from it, but its calm tone and such a familiar-but-not otherworldliness... a desolate, half-abandoned half-suburban west coast... people who aren't really people and androids who aren't really people either... hmm. in 1968 he wrote this?

my favourite line from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? comes near the beginning, where Dick lays out the means and function of Mercerism: "ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated. As long as some creature experienced joy, then the condition for all other creatures included a fragment of joy. However, if any living being suffered, then for all the rest the shadow could not be entirely cast off." being bound to each other like this can be scary. your pain and my weakness, your strength and my peace, all of it part of some grand universal equation? this reminds me of a conversation friend Adam and I had the other day. as we debated the powerlessness that seems to pervade so much of my experience, he made the incredibly zen comment to me that, "you are part of the universe, so you share blame with all that happens within it as do we all."

the same ideas bled through all these books, and I'm not sure if it's just because I read them all together or what. not many would look at this trio and think, hm, those three books have a ton in common. two of them are relatively contemporary (I just noticed this: Cloud Atlas won the very first Tournament of Books, way back in 2005). one is very realistic and--though a little psychotic at times--thoroughly set in a normal world. there are futuristic elements in Cloud Atlas to match the classic sci-fi vibe of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and there are tests and lies and mysteries in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to match the suspense thriller vibe of Gone Girl. then again, maybe I'm seeing things. maybe it is just because I read three non-academic books in a row and wanted to find all these threads. so what?

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