Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Banished to unfrequented parts of their minds

Hackworth had enjoyed San Francisco and was hardly immune to its charm, but Atlantis/Shanghai had imbued him with the sense that all the old cities of the world were doomed, except possibly as theme parks, and that the future was in the new cities, built from the bedrock up one atom at a time, their Feed lines as integral as capillaries were to flesh. The old neighborhoods of Shanghai, Feedless or with overhead Feeds kludged in on bamboo stilts, seemed frighteningly inert, like an opium addict squatting in the middle of a frenetic downtown street, blowing a reed of sweet smoke out between his teeth, staring into some ancient dream that all the bustling pedestrians had banished to unfrequented parts of their minds. Hackworth was heading for one of those neighbourhoods right now, as fast as he could walk.

— from The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson.

I'm not enjoying this novel as much as I expected to, but it's early still, and I suspect a great deal of my difficulty with it has to do with the fact that I'm away, sadly not in Stephenson's Shanghai, and my focus is elsewhere. I'm having a hard time following the plot, but the world is sufficiently interesting, although it is revealed in a fairly expository manner.

Maybe it's the wrong book for the wrong time and place. However, there are several bits I'm finding compellingly strange and witty, and I anticipate a pay-off.

I'm also looking forward to starting Stephenson's Anathem, which I recently acquired, particularly since its appearance on a list of 10 recent science fiction books that are about big ideas. After all... Science monks! Big ideas!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Art is a cruel mistress

"You want to ask me about class and status? Is that it?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"You Opinioners are always asking about class and status. One would think you'd know all about it by now. But very well. Today, since everyone is equal, there is only one class. The middle class. The only question then is — to what portion of the middle class does one belong? High, low, or middle?"

"And how is that determined?"

"Why, by all sorts of things. The way a person speaks, eats, dresses, the way he acts in public. His manners. His clothing. You can always tell your upper middle class man by his clothes. It's quite unmistakable."

"I see. And the lower middle classes?"

"Well, for one thing they lack creative energy. They wear ready-made clothing, for example, without taking the trouble to improve upon it. The same goes for their homes. Mere uninspired adornment won't do, let me add. That's simply the mark of the nouveau upper middle class. One doesn't receive such persons in the home."

"Thank you, Citizen Gotthreid. And where would you classify yourself statuswise?"

(With the very faintest hesitation). "Oh, I've never thought much about it — upper middle, I suppose."

— from The Status Civilization, by Robert Sheckley.

Maybe it's because of the job posting I saw last week, for a scriptwriter at Ubisoft, that I'm spending these last few days imagining everything as a video game — the journey to work, a news story, meal preparation, whatever I happen to be reading. This week I happen to have been reading Robert Sheckley, and I'm convinced The Status Civilization would make a most excellent videogame.

This is a novella written in 1960. It appears to be widely available online (I downloaded a free ebook from Kobo Books). Go, download it, read it now.

Will Barrent wakes up to find himself being shipped to the prison planet (think Great Britain's relationship to Australia). He has little recollection of his life on Earth ad does not remember having committed a crime. But here he is with hundreds of others being introduced into a prison society and left to figure out the "rules" on his own, which is something of a challenge — when you let the lawless run things their own way, the law doesn't quite work on the same assumptions you and I would make. And no one's willing to help you out — that's part of the game.

So Will essentially faces one challenge (or puzzle, or enigma) after another, and with every success, he levels up. The challenges mostly consist of staying alive, and usually as part of some society-sanctioned games, some gladiator-style, some mass hunts. Every win gains him some status in this prison world's hierarchy.

Behind all his miniquests lies the greater mystery of the crime he committed on Earth and how Earth society operates now that it exports its convicts. Will does beat the odds and make it back to his home planet, but the egalitarian utopia that Earth society has aspired toward is as stratified as ever, though perhaps more subtly (see the quote above), and with new sets of complications and dirty truths.

The following exchange is not exactly representative; it occurs toward the end, shares little with the rest of the story to this point in terms of pacing and mood, and is not especially videogame-like. But I find this idea of re-creating a work of art both fascinating and hilarious.

"You are a verbalizer, Citizen Honners?"

"I am, sir. Though perhaps 'author' would be a better word, if you don't mind."

"Of course. Citizen Honners, are you presently engaged in writing for any of the periodicals I see on the dissemination stands?"

"Certainly not! These are written by incompetent hacks for the dubious delectation of the lower middle class. The stories, in case you didn't know, are taken line by line from the works of various popular writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The people who do the work merely substitute adjectives and adverbs. Occasionally, I'm told, a more daring hack will substitute a verb, or even a noun. But that is rare. The editors of such periodicals frown upon sweeping innovations."

"And you are not engaged in such work?"

"Absolutely not! My work is noncommercial. I am a Creative Conrad Specialist."

"Would you mind telling me what that means, Citizen Honners?"

"I'd be happy to. My own particular field of endeavor lies in re-creating the works of Joseph Conrad, an author who lived in the pre-atomic era."

"How do you go about re-creating those works, sir?"

"Well, at present I am engaged in my fifth re-creation of Lord Jim. To do it, I steep myself as thoroughly as possible in the original work. Then I set about rewriting it as Conrad would have written it if he had lived today. It is a labor which calls for extreme diligence, and for the utmost in artistic integrity. A single slip could mar the re-creation. As you can see, it calls for a preliminary mastery of Conrad's vocabulary, themes, plots, characters, mood, approach, and so on. All this goes in, and yet the book cannot be a slavish repeat. It must have something new to say, just as Conrad would have said it."

"And have you succeeded?"

"The critics have been generous, and my publisher gives me every encouragement."

"When you have finished your fifth re-creation of Lord Jim, what do you plan to do?"

"First I shall take a long rest. Then I shall re-create one of Conrad's minor works. The Planter of Malata, perhaps."

"I see. Is re-creation the rule in all the arts?"

"It is the goal of the true aspiring artist, no matter what medium he has chosen to work in. Art is a cruel mistress, I fear."

I am beginning to like, and admire, Robert Sheckley a great deal.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sheckley stories

I'd never heard of Robert Sheckley until New York Review Books released a collection of his stories. It's got a gorgeous cover, and it's sci-fi. Along with the NYRB Classics seal of approval, it looks like a sure thing. But I'm not so good with spontaneity and the art of succumbing to the impulse purchase — first I had to look up Sheckley online.

I downloaded a sampling of stories from Kobo Books:

  • Bad Medicine
  • Death Wish
  • Forever
  • The Hour of Battle
  • Warm
  • The Status Civilization (a novella)
  • Warrior Race

These have a great Twilight Zone-y vibe and hint at some vast conspiracy lurking behind the facade of society. Straightforward in the telling with twist punch endings. The stories are more than 50 years old, but there's nothing dated about them apart from that mood. Besides The Status Civilization, which merits a post of its own (coming soon), I like "Bad Medicine" and "Forever" the best of the lot, but they are all thought-provoking and have something to commend them.

"Now you're implying that machines think," said Rajcik.

"Of course I am," Watkins said. "Because they do! No, I'm not out of my head. Any engineer will tell you that a complex machine has a personality all its own. Do you know what that personality is like? Cold, withdrawn, uncaring, unfeeling. A machine's only purpose is to frustrate desire and produce two problems for every one it solves. And do you know why a machine feels this way?"

"You're hysterical," Somers told him.

"I am not. A machine feels this way because it knows it is an unnatural creation in nature's domain. Therefore it wishes to reach entropy and cease — a mechanical death wish."

— from "Death Wish," by Robert Sheckley.

Several other stories are available at Project Gutenberg. You can be sure I'll be working my way through them in the coming weeks. And I'll be picking up a copy of Store of the Worlds.

If you're familiar with the work of Robert Sheckley, I'd love to hear about your experiences with it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Childhood is a privilege

Ian McEwan is hit or miss with me. I've loved a couple of his books and hated a couple others, despite their reputations or promising descriptions. The Child in Time is a hit.

I deliberately stayed away from this book for years, because of its premise: a three-year-old child is snatched out from under her father at the supermarket.

I'm finally past, or at least at terms with, a lot of the anxieties of parenthood. Somehow my child has survived my parenting skills — she is healthy and happy and 9. I guess I feel she's too big, too much her own person, too fully present, to be stolen away when I'm not looking. Not that I'm not vigilant with regard to her safety, but after years of experience and practice I've relinquished some of the paralyzingly all-consuming worry — we've made it this far, we have some perspective, and some measure of control.

Stephen Lewis, on the other hand, has undergone a traumatic event, is not in control, and has trouble getting a grip.

Then he returned to the window. Traffic, steady drizzle, shoppers waiting patiently at the crossing — it was a wonder that there could be so much movement, so much purpose, all the time. He himself had none at all.

As you can well imagine, the event inevitably had a negative impact on his marriage too.

Fittingly, Stephen is a writer of children's books (rather accidently — he'd intended his first novel as serious literature for grown-ups) and also sits on a committee, the Official Commission on Child Care, which gives rise to some serious reflection on the nature of childhood — what it is he'd missed in his upbringing, what he's missing out on as a parent in the absence of a child, and the state that a disturbed friend of his is regressing to.

"It was not always the case that a large minority comprising the weakest memebers of society wore special clothes, were freed from the routines of work and of many constraints on their behavior, and were able to devote much of their time to play. It should be remembered that childhood is not a natural occurrence. There was a time when children were treated like small adults. Childhood is an invention, a social construct, made possible by society as it increased in sophistication and resource. Above all, childhood is a privilege. No child as it grows older should be allowed to forget that its parents, as embodiments of society, are the ones who grant this privilege, and do so at their own expense."

— from The Authorized Child-Care Handbook, HMSO

The other thing this book reflects on (quite obviously — note the title) is time — the memory of it, the physics of it, and the weird experience of it. For example, there's a car accident, and the seconds play out in slow motion — we've all had experiences like this.

There are in fact some other wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey moments in this novel that make the whole thing something other a depressing exercise in stark and emotional realism.

Lucky for us, Stephen is friends with a theoretical physicist who imposes some sanity and order on his experiences but also, as scientists are wont to do, remains curiously detached. Like, to understand a thing fully, you have to stand outside of it. And if you're in it, you've no hope of grasping it.

[Helena's asking me right now what I'm writing about, so we're talking about time and how summer lasts forever when you're a kid and she's so bored.]

Beyond its gut-wrenching premise, The Child in Time feels emotionally true, and as it progresses it reveals rich and subtle layers of meaning. I recommend it, but not for new parents.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's a question of seeing things correctly

"I'll know when you're close," the voice said. "You were warm just then."

"Just then?" All he had done was look around the room. He did so again, turning his head slowly. Then it happpened.

The room, from one angle, looked different. It was suddenly a mixture of muddled colors, instead of the carefully blended pastel shades he had selected. The lines of wall, floor and ceiling were strangely off proportion, zigzag, unrelated.

Then everything went back to normal.

"You were very warm," the voice said. "It's a question of seeing things correctly."

— from "Warm," by Robert Sheckley.

I'm seeing shades of China Miéville, something "old and predatory and utterly terrible" like in his story "Details," one aspect of which might be seen as growing into something vaster yet more mundane in the crosshatching of The City & the City.

Sheckley's story is from 1953, and it's included in Store of the Worlds, a collection of his stories recently issued by NYRB Classics.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Life is filled with plot holes!

So I did what I could, but the mimeographed pages always came back from the front office with unequivocal notes: too melodramatic, too absurd, too violent. They were forever complaining about plot holes. "Plot holes?" he'd shout. "Miserable accountant souls! Life is filled with plot holes! But he kept writing.

Kino, by Jürgen Fauth, is a highly entertaining novel. I read it in the space of a weekend. Neither the plot nor the characters are entirely believable, but there's something wonderfully over-the-top about them.

Mina and Sam have had to cut their honeymoon short because Sam has contracted dengue fever. While he's in the hospital, Mina returns home to find a package containing film reels of a movie long thought to have been lost, directed by her German grandfather. So Mina sets off on adventure taking her to Berlin and later to Hollywood.

Along the way she comes into posession of a journal her grandfather had written when his wife had him committed to psychiatric care in the 60s. Excerpts of Klaus's journal are interspersed throughout Mina's story. We learn about his upbringing, how he started making films, the glory he achieved, his life in Nazi Germany, how he made a new start in America.

The first feature-length movie Klaus "Kino" Koblitz ever saw was F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu. The experience was an eye-opening one, exuberantly described, and summed up like this:

This was the opposite of father's newsreels, this was the technology of the night, modernity pressed into the service of poetry, culling images from dreams and rendering them visible as if by the light of the moon, for all to see.

It was magic.

The entire novel is very filmic — transatlantic flights, mysterious men in suits, sex and drugs, chases across rooftops and at high speed in cars, Turkish baths, secret deals going down, gunplay.

Mapmakers always insert one wrong detail into their maps — a lake that doesn't exist, a county line that stretches a hilltop too far, a misspelled street name. It is a way to identify unauthorized copies, but it's also an opening through which the infinite rushes in: if one thing is wrong, then anything might be wrong. It's the same principle through which a single blank bullet calms the conscience of the entire firing squad.

Sometimes when I read reviews it feels as if the reviewers had access to a version completely different from the book I read. I've seen Kino described as a "novel of ideas," but in my view it is not that. That's not to say there aren't any interesting ideas there — there are plenty, not least the problem of reconstructing the past when written accounts and memory are unreliable, or drug-addled, or self-servingly selective. Whom do you trust? And what in life really matters? (Mina has essentially abandoned her husband for this quest, as others abandon reasonableness for art.) But it's all treated rather lightly.

While some of the journal bits put me in mind of Irmgard Keun's descriptions of living a bohemian and perhaps oblivious (or denying) lifestyle as the Nazi party rises to power, the overwhelming feel of this novel is nostalgia for the glory days of early 20th-century European film-making, of the kind I felt when experiencing The Invention of Hugo Cabret (both book and film). The modern-day goings-on, though I imagine they would translate well to the screen, feel slight and superficial by comparison. But despite a lack of depth perspective, the today portion of the novel is certainly energetic, even crazed.

As Klaus "Kino" Koblitz would say, "If it's not fun, why bother?" And this novel is undeniably very fun.

See also
Jürgen Fauth's website, with links to excerpts available around the web.
Tulpendiebe: a call for submissions for inclusion in an enhanced multimedia remix ebook edition of Kino.
A review at DBC Reads, which I think is pretty on the mark.
A smart Q&A with the author.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The stubborn conspiracy of objects

Mostly he was indifferent to the squalor of his flat, the meaty black flies and the leisurely patrols. When he was out he dreaded returning to the deadly alignments of familiar possessions, the way the empty armchairs squatted, the smeared plates and old newspapers at their feet. It was the stubborn conspiracy of objects — lavatory seat, bedsheets, floor dirt — to remain exactly as they had been left.

— from The Child in Time, by Ian McEwan.

I feel the same way upon returning home after a day at work or a weekend jaunt. Sigh.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A girl who doesn't exist yet

I found Life Is Short and Desire Endless, by Patrick Lapeyre, to be a quirky and infuriating little novel. And yes, there's something decidedly French about it. Somewhere between the lightly philosophical musings on human relations of Hervé Le Tellier and Michel Houellebecq's more blatant crude and caustic cynicism. Gentler than Houellebecq, definitely, but I am beginning to discern a spectrum of contemporary French male novelists.

The story centers around Nora — a free spirit and aspiring actress, a little bit Holly Golightly. But we never really get to know her. Rather, we try to home in on her by triangulating the perspectives of Blériot, her married French lover, who is "prepared to uphold that any man who hasn't loved two women at once is condemned to remain incomplete"; Murphy, an American in London, works in finance, whom she's "left"; and the more peripheral Vicky, a childhood friend. They each of them have had their turn at playing house with Nora, and they pine for her, with varying degrees of disabling obsession.

Despite the distance separating them, it's as if Murphy and Blériot are moving on either side of a thin partition, as transparent as a paper screen, each aware of the other's existence, inevitably thinking about him, but unable to give him a name or a face, so that they both seem to be groping their way like sleepwalkers along parallel corridors.

It becomes rather clear that Nora's lovers, and there are others beyond those three, know her as little as we do. But they are desperately in love with the idea of her. And this seems to be something she cultivates.

The actors who play Nina Zarechnaya, she explains, mostly take their inspirations from other Ninas they've seen at the theater or from people they've met, imitating the way they speak or move. As a result, the effect is almost always disappointing. Because everyone already knows Nina.

Now she'd like to incarnate someone who doesn't exist yet.

"Do you understand?"

He understands and he doesn't understand. Either way, he's take with the idea of loving a girl who doesn't exist yet.

Then just when you think you've pinned her down, she's gone.

Neither Nora nor Blériot are particularly likable (and it's a bit tiresome to read about Blériot's constant groping. Really, is that all men — and French men in particular — ever think about? I'd only just started believing we'd got past all that...), and the others don't have enough screen time for me to pass judgement. This story doesn't cover any new territory, and ultimately it's something of a downer, but it is compelling in its exploration of desire, what drives people to each other, and what it is that makes relationships work (or not).

Read Guy Savage's thoughtful review at His Futile Preoccupations.

Glossaries for novels

Dear Publishers,

If a novel has a glossary, please give some early indication that there exists a glossary. Put it in the front of the book. Or list it in a table of contents (even if it's the only contents to list). Whether the book is print or digital.

As a rule I don't flip through books, and especially not anywhere near the end, for fear of spoilers. Putting a glossary at the end is only useful if you make it that far, but at that point, there's little point.

I remember reading the whole of A Clockwork Orange when I was 18 without the benefit of knowing there was a glossary at the back — sure, I felt pretty smart for being able to figure out most of the terms, but I wondered how readers who didn't know a Slavic language managed, and then I felt pretty stupid for not having realized there was a glossary at the back. Knowing there's a glossary might make challenging books a tad more accessible.

Two recent examples of books I've read that have glossaries I wish I'd known about:

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. (I read this book in hardcover.) Particularly as it's aimed at young adults, readers would benefit from knowing they can refer to a glossary to keep certain dragon and other concepts of this fantasy world straight.

Kino, by Jürgen Fauth. (I read this as an ebook.) German words and phrases are scattered throughout the book and add colour. The meaning of single words is generally clear(ish) from context, but I skipped over several of the longer phrases in faith that my not knowing what they meant wouldn't detract from my understanding of the novel as a whole. I'm pretty sure that's true, but now that I've reached the end, I'm not going to flip back to check my German comprehension.

Hey, if the book is digital, why not link the term directly to its definition?


Friday, July 13, 2012

Sufficiently interesting

In Rachel Hartman's young adult novel Seraphina, dragons feel about us the way we feel about cockroaches...

"All right. Can you think of anything — anything at all — that the cockroaches could do to persuade us that we should let them live?"

The girls exchanged a skeptical look. "Cockroaches can only scuttle horridly and spoil your food," said Millie, hugging herself. She'd had experience, I gathered.

Glisselda, however, was thinking hard, the tip of her tongue protruding from her mouth. "What if they held court or built cathedrals or wrote poetry?"

"Would you let them live?"

"I might. How ugly are they, though, really?"

I grinned. "Too late: you've notice they're interesting. You understand them when they talk. What if you could become one, for short periods of time?"

They writhed with laughter. I felt they'd understood, but I underscored my point: "Our survival depends not on being superior but on being sufficiently interesting."

Seraphina is musically gifted and she has joined the court as music tutor to the Princess Glisselda. Though she is but a year older than Glisselda, as the above exchange shows Seraphina — in part due to her family heritage and the fact that her father is a lawyer — has a worldly wisdom on matters other than music that the princess recognizes as valuable.

The entire kingdom is in the midst of preparations for a grand celebration of the treaty with the neighbouring dragon nation. But as the novel opens, one of the royal family has recently been found murdered — by a dragon, it's suspected. Old animosities resurface, and political tensions are coming to a boil. And Seraphina gets caught up in the intrigues surrounding the prince's death.

It's a richly detailed world, and the characters — Goreddi, dragon, Porphyrian, half-breed, what have you — are very humanly realized. There's something very true about them.

One quibble: while the dragons are calculatingly mathematical and unemotional by nature, the dragon half-breeds seem to be gifted with talents that aren't obviously related to their dragonness. Perhaps it's something rooted in their other half that the dragonness intensifies? This isn't entirely clear to me.

Regardless, the core of the story is about Seraphina coming into her own, coming to terms with her past and the family secrets she uncovers, and learning to accept herself as she is, with all the unique traits that set her apart. She starts off a lonely and somewhat timid and confused girl, but always thoughtful. She grows into a self-assured young woman with a well-developed sense of what's right and just and forms strong bonds with the people who matter.

There is also a romance element that builds gradually and sweetly — I like how it's described in The Book Rat review.

All in all, Seraphina is a compelling story, gracefully written. I look forward to sharing it with my daughter when she's older.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Like in myths and legends

His conjugal affection has never actually been as vehement as he claims, and their relationship, despite intermittent bonds of complicity and tenderness, had become more or less incomprehensible.

In fact, no one in their circle of friends understand it at all.

But Blériot doesn't mind what people say. It's a relationship with no logical explanation, like in myths and legends.

— from Life Is Short and Desire Endless, by Patrick Lapeyre.

So how does your marriage measure up?

I was sold on the title, but it took me a while to warm to this novel. I'm still not feeling exacty warm about it, but something about it challenges me emotionally, and for this reason it is compelling.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Galloping on a tomato

The man that cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot.
— André Breton

I visualize everything galloping on tomatoes. I love tomatoes. I think they're beautiful.

I prefer the fiery orange ones over the pink-toned ones. I'll take juicy over meaty. At the grocery story, when possible, I choose the ones still on the vine. I love that smell! Breathe in.

I could eat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And as snacks. I like them fried with my bacon and eggs. Sliced, in sandwiches. Souped hot, or gazpachoized cold. I like them salsified, with garlic, parsley, cilantro, onion, whatever. Juiced, with vodka.

Lately, they form the basis of my now famous Red Salad: a handful of tomatoes (sliced, quartered, diced, chunked, whatever), red pepper, red onion, and beets (from a can). If I'm feeling particularly feisty I'll throw in some radishes. Olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. (And sometimes sumac. I'm not sure I taste the difference sumac makes, but it makes everything redder.)

But a tomato is best eaten essentially naked, like an apple. Lick it, salt it, bite it. Repeat as necessary.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

La Tomate

La Tomate

Trop timide, la tomate
devient écarlate
quand on lui dit qu'elle est belle.
Un rien l'épate,
elle se dresse sur ses pattes
pour imiter les hirondelles.
Elle rêve d'avoir des ailes,
s'arrondit, se gratte,
se gonfle d’eau, se dilate,
mais à chaque fois ça rate :
aucune plume ne pousse
à son épaule tendre et douce.
La tomate échec et mat,
se résigne, s’acclimate,
mais sous son air ombrageux,
puisque le ciel est paradis perdu,
elle mijote dans son jus
un songe rouge et nuageux.

Charles Dobzynski

Friday, July 06, 2012

Three books about tomatoes

It's tomato season! That is, I'm daily plucking cherry tomatoes by the handful from my hanging basket plant. I love tomatoes!

Here are 3 books about tomatoes that look tempting:

1. Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, by Barry Estabrook.

I think the subtitle says it all. More about the book on NPR:

"As one large Florida farmer said, 'I don't get paid a single cent for flavor,' " says Estabrook. "He said, 'I get paid for weight. And I don't know of any supermarket shopper who tastes her tomatoes before she puts them in her shopping cart.' ... It's not worth commercial plant breeders' while to breed for taste because their customers — the large farmers — don't get paid for it."

Or read the article from which this book grew.

(And aren't the covers gorgeous?)

2. Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato, by Arthur Allen.

This book covers the tomato's history, how it's been popularized and modified. Consumer interest in heirloom tomatoes led the author to sample a wide variety of tomatoes from various regions and try to grow a few himself. Read an excerpt.

3. The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden, by William Alexander.

This memoir is about more than just tomatoes — there's a vast vegetable garden at stake. And again, the subtitle says it all. And still, I think it's relevant to me and I can relate, in the burdens of tending my paltry-by-comparison container garden on the balcony and the cost analysis I conduct on yield per materials and effort (I break about even). Read an excerpt.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Monday, July 02, 2012

The penumbra of coincidence

(I love that word — penumbra.)

By some coincidence I happened to bookmark a couple items to check on later and on that later inspection they turned out to be related,

the first being Summer Reading, "a Reading Rainbow-esque video series" for grown-ups about books that this guy loves (although the series to date consists of just one video) and it's clear that his enthusiasm for books is genuine,

and the second being a mention and summary of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which title is fabulous for the dual reason of "penumbra" and "24-hour bookstore" (aah! <- [sigh of pleasure]) and which I immediately added to my wishlist.

And these items are connected in this way:

Both the video series and the novel are by one Robin Sloan.

Read "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" — the utterly charming story on which the novel is based, featuring a night clerk at the titular shop whose job requirements include:

"You must keep precise records of all purchases. Time. Amount. The customer's appearance. His state of mind. How he asks for the book. How he receives it. Does he appear to be injured. Is he wearing a sprig of rosemary on his hat. And so on."

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Inhale, calm; exhale, relax

It's Canada Day! And I'm relaxing by assembling Ikea furniture!