I've read a lot of books since my last reading post so this is a quick catch-up of the most interesting ones:
- Die Hard Mod by Charlie McQuaker is a short book but it's great fun. The story is set in Brighton and mentions lots of well-known places. I loved the fast and effective style, which led to a great set-piece at the end. If you live in Brighton, you should definitely read this. There's a review by Paolo Hewitt here.
- Jaws was a good quick read, described by Peter Benchley as "a first novel about a fish". I can't see myself reading much more Peter Brenchley, although if a copy of 1994's White Shark falls into my lap then I won't be able to resist "the story of a Nazi-created genetically engineered shark/human hybrid".
- What was Lost was recommended by Scott Pack and was good enough that I read it by torchlight in my tent at a festival. It's about a shopping centre, and really captures the horror of lunch-breaks and days off. One thing that annoyed me was that the back of the book gave away the structure of the book – it would have been lovely to read this not knowing where it was going. My favourite line, from a girl who wants to be a detective: "Although Sam Spade is not seen at any point in The Maltese Falcon shopping for stationery, Kate knew how important premium office supplies were to an effective investigator"
- I read Einstein's Dreams because it was compared to Sum,
which I read in April. The similarities are notable. However, I think
Einstein's dreams is the better book, since it asks more relevant questions about our lives – which of the worlds it describes are we living in? My copy of the book was
augmented by notes from a previous owner. She seemed to be studying the stories in college and had, I felt, had missed the point at times. I thought it better not to email her and point this out.
- I was initially inspired to explore the Bizarro genre by a post from Damien G. Walter. My appetite was further whetted by Bluejoh, who'd read Baby Jesus Butt Plug and said "It's still with me, in a way that a lot of books aren't". I bought one of the Bizarro starter kits and was mostly unimpressed, but House of Houses is one of the most interesting fantasy novels I've read. It's not Tolkien by any means but it is a truly weird novel, which asks the deep philosophical question: what is a house? While the text sometimes seems immature, it's also one of the strangest and most
inventive novels I've read. True fantasy.
The Secret State was a fascinating but bleak book by Peter Hennessey.
Now that the world has survived the Cold War, it seems less insane than
it did (In August 1991, the head of the JIC, Sir Percy Cradock,
produced champagne, "toasting the intelligence community as a whole
on the demise of the Cold War with the words "We didn't have a
war. We did win"). Despite this, some of the memos from the time remain chilling.
Looking back, the Cold War seems like a very strange period of history. As historian Michael Howard pointed out, "War is now seen as being a matter for governments and not for
peoples; an affair of mutual destruction inflicted at remote distances
by technological specialists operating according to the arcane
calculations of strategic analysts. Popular participation is considered
neither necessary nor desirable" – and this despite, as Hennessey
points out, the certainty of massive civilian casualties.
The book was fascinating. One of the
strangest moments was the discussion of how a nuclear submarine checks
whether Britain has been destroyed – one test was whether the Today programme was still broadcasting.