random trip report
A Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick.
Home Truths by David Lodge.
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart.
An Equal Music by Vikram Seth.
Underworld by Don DeLillo.
Climb by Anatoli Boukreev. If you read Into Thin Air, you MUST read this book also.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I'm not a technical climber but I feel a tremendous pull towards the tops of mountains, the higher the better. So I really enjoyed this book about ill-fated commercial expeditions to Everest. I'd pay good money to see Krakauer and Anatoli Boukreev share the stage on the Jerry Springer show. 3/99
Steel Beach by John Varley. Entertaining sci-fi, a bit rambling, loosely centered on the issue of what might keep you interested in life if you were immortal. 2/99
The Chinese Nail Murders by Robert van Gulik. A novelty, but fun: murder mystery set in 14th-century China. Part of a series, well-researched and based on plots of Chinese stories of that era. 3/99
Players by Don Delillo. In each of his books, Delillo invents a slightly different way of conversing. These styles are so odd and appealing that my own speech imitates them while I'm reading the book and for a month or two thereafter. In his earlier book 'Americana' the sentences (spoken mostly by ad-agency people) are slightly inflated with a syntactic complexity masking the banality of the underlying thought. A number of them start with 'Apropos of nothing', a phrase that became my own personal mantra for a while. In 'Players' much of the dialog is between people who know each other so well that the bulk of sentences are often implied rather than spoken. For example, 'As if.' and 'In spite of.' might appear as complete sentences, with the referent left unstated (but generally clear from context).
A word repeated over and over becomes humorously absurd, and similarly a situation or activity (up to and including one's entire existence), when viewed with no context, may seem bizarre and ridiculous. Delillo's characters wander in and out of this state of existential vertigo, and we readers do as well. It's potentially depressing, but on the other hand Delillo encourages us to find meaning and pleasure in extremely small things, verbal or sensory or interpersonal.
Delillo is my favorite writer, period. Don't skim when you read him. Savor each sentence, let it roll around your taste buds a while before swallowing. 'Players' is not his most accessible work - you might start with 'White Noise' instead.
The Tetherballs of Bougainville by Mark Leyner. If the idea of a 7th-grader building a papier-mache diorama depicting a belief system in which we exist on Earth as puppets, transcribing our life into a screenplay at the instant of death (i.e., life flashing before our eyes), ascending in Heaven through the cinematic roles of writer, director, producer, and mogul, then collapsing (depending on personal mass) into a white dwarf or black hole; thence being told, by the 7th-grade teacher, that of all the projects said teacher has seen combining theology, stellar evolution, and Entertainment Weekly that this is 'one of the best'; if all this strikes you as amusing, then there's a chance you might like this book. (I love this book and everything Mark Leyner has written.)
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay Macinerny. Twenty-something guy works as Factual Verifier at New Yorker-like magazine by day, snorts lots of coke and has various misadventures by night. Clever and occasionally funny, but curiously dated (early 80s).
Talking it Over by Julian Barnes. The intertwined lives of three people, told via a series of first-person narratives (often mutually contradictory) by the principals and assorted others. Entertaining and sporadically wonderful.
Changing Places by David Lodge. Two middle-aged English professors, one from Berkeley, the other from an obscure British university, trade positions for a year in the late 60's. Each gets much more than he bargained for. Slightly forced and dated, but entertaining, especially for academics and Berkeley natives like me.
Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne. The fictional diary of a 14-year-old boy with a smart-alec attitude, raging hormones, and a dysfunctional family. Wildly funny, and written in a Dickens-esque serial style that keeps you reading long past bedtime. Set in the East Bay - at one point our protagonist inadvertently starts a fire that wipes out most of Gourmet Ghetto, destroying many fine wines and a warehouse of olive oil.
Therapy by David Lodge. Another novel in the form of a journal. The midlife crisis of a British TV writer takes him through various new-age therapies, a fascination with Kierkegaard, and attempts to rekindle increasingly old flames. Funny and resonant.
3001 by Arthur C. Clarke. Completely uninteresting finale to the 2001 series.
Fiasco by Stanislaw Lem. Lem writes science fiction in which the Science is often something unusual - in this case, game theory. The initial encounter between races can be modeled in terms of utility matrices and incomplete information - like a game where opponent's strategy, and the rules themselves, are not initially known. Plot-wise, this book has a lot in common with 3001, but it's far deeper, denser, and more rewarding.
And finally, three books revolving around the detection of an extraterrestrial radio signal.
His Master's Voice by Stanislaw Lem. The signal means something different to every scientist who studies it. Tough to get through (high semantic density) but a great book in my opinion. I try to get my friends to read this book, and have given many copies as gifts, but so far no one has read past page 50.
Contact by Carl Sagan. Surprisingly good. The main character is loosely based on Jill Tarter, a real-life SETI research scientist. The late Mr. Sagan kicks back and dispenses some life-and-love wisdom along with the sci-fi.
Ratner's Star by Don Delillo. An adolescent math genius, lots of other bizarre characters, and no plot per se. Not for everyone (i.e., everyone besides me hated it). Admittedly, I tend to like anything and everything by Delillo.