October 11, 2004

What I'm Reading (Library Version)

by peterb

Since I spent so much time raving about the Carnegie Library recently, it's only fair that I indicate what I've actually been reading. What follows is a laundry list with some brief comments on each item. The hyperlinks in each item will take you to Amazon, in case your local library isn't as good as mine.


  • I, Fatty by Jerry Stahl. Stahl's fictionalized autobiography of the celebrated and then later villified Fatty Arbuckle is gripping. I don't much care for his actual writing, which I find clumsy and lacking a unique voice (it reads, to me, very much in the same voice as Permanent Midnight -- it feels almost like he got a 1920s slang dictionary and did a search-and-replace in his word processor after finishing the book), but Stahl knows how to tell a great story. Fatty Arbuckle's tale is a sad one, and I suspect one that most people don't know much about.
  • The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket. I love the idea of a world in which Lemony Snicket exists. I like the concept of the book. I like the suggestively Goreyesque art on the cover. I like the name "Lemony Snicket." I like everything about the book except, it seems, the book itself, which talks down to the reader in a way in which -- you know I'm going to say it -- J.K. Rowling's work doesn't. Snicket also suffers in comparison to Gorey because Gorey doesn't feel at all bad about brutally murdering his protagonists, whereas Snicket pulls every punch he throws. Perhaps I'm being unfair on a book which is, after all, being expressly marketed to children. But take that as a measure of my disappointment.
  • The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer, by Michael Moritz. There are probably hundreds of books about Apple Computer, but this one is the best of the lot, in my opinion, because it is firmly focused on the early, pre-Macintosh years. It gives you a real sense of what life is like at a start up company, and here I'm talking more about the finance end then about the long hours and technical challenges. It gives you an idea of how much of Apple's success wasn't due just to the machine Woz and Jobs built, but to the businessmen they chose to help them manufacture, market and sell it. I enjoyed this book immensely. It can be a bit hard to find, and so is a great candidate for borrowing from your local library.
  • Various Terry Pratchett books. I've managed to avoid reading Pratchett for all of these years because I think the Discworld premise is stupid. But, with A.S. Byatt singing his praises to the heavens, I felt obligated to try some, and she's right: he does write amazing sentences. I still think the Discworld is stupid, but it's a sign of Pratchett's talent that he can make me enjoy it, at least while I"m actually reading his amazing sentences.
  • The Rule of Four, by Ian Caldwell. I only picked this up because it's the only item that comes up when you search for Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which has been on my "find a copy and decide if you want to read this" list for several years. I haven't read it yet. My impression from skimming the first chapter is that they're trying to cash in on the Da Vinci Code phenomenon.
  • Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters by Adam Barr. I'd say something witty here, but if I ever decide to interview at Microsoft I'd probably regret it.
  • Apple II Assembly Language by Marvin De Jong. Don't ask. Just...don't ask.

Graphic Novels

  • Promethea, by Alan Moore. Enjoyable if overwrought in that typically British hysterical Kabbalistic way. Why do writers always have to make Kabbala open a gate to a mystic dimension of pure thought? Hey, guys, sometimes meaningless numerological wanking is just meaningless numerological wanking.
  • Tom Strong, by Alan Moore. I can't really put into words exactly how much I hated this, but I'll try. Like Dave Sim and Art Spiegelman, Moore's work is self-referential to the history and form of comic books. Sometimes this works, but often it weakens the stories they want to tell. I like most of their work because I understand the references because I grew up reading "comix". The problem with larding every page of your work with references to other works is that only those readers that have read the other works get the message. Meanwhile, younger independent artists (Danny Clowes, for example) produce work that is much more vital, and not as fettered by the past. The difference between a Moore and a Clowes is the difference between evolution and revolution (Footnote: I stole that line from Apple ad copy, as revealed in The Little Kingdom. I can be self-referential too!). As in his masterwork Watchmen, here Moore is obsessed with superheroes (he might prefer to call them "archetypes," but I claim that the moment you slap some spandex on an archetype, it's as serious as an orchestra playing Mozart on kazoos.) Tom Strong wants to be a witty, lighthearted riff on the action-adventure serials of the 1930s. But there's a difference between leveraging a cliché to say something new, and simply repeating it. Tom Strong just repeats the clichés. It's the worst thing Alan Moore has written in years. It is, quite literally, not worth the paper it's printed on.
  • The Books of Magic, by John Ney Reiber, various volumes. I had started reading these years ago, but never really kept up. It was nice to get the rest of the story in one concentrated dose. In many ways this is the Harry Potter story (and aren't they all?) with significantly more menace and danger. I like it.
  • À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, by Marcel Proust, adapted by Stéphane Heuet. I've been putting off reading Swann's Way for about, oh, 6 years now. So I picked up the graphic novel version of it. I feel warm, happy, and fulfilled. Now I'll be able to pretend that I know all about Proust at those sophisticated cocktail parties I attend. "Oh, but of course, my dear, your view of this is like the young Proust's first view of the cathedral at Balbec." Yes, I'll be the toast of the town. Unless they read my weblog. Oops. In any event, I have great respect for what, in my head, I term "classics comics." I remember reading The Iliad -- in comic book form -- w hen I was 10 years old. If you've ever been even marginally interested in Proust, this book might be the spark to convince you to start reading the real thing. I know that it inspired me to move the original, text-only version of Swann's Way back on to my "read this sooner rather than later" shelf.


I have 19 other items on hold, currently. How do I find the time to read all of this, and still get my work done, you ask? The answer could not be simpler.

I don't sleep.

Posted by peterb at October 11, 2004 06:24 PM | Bookmark This

WATCHMEN is, to me, one of those "genre culminating" works. "This caps off the whole notion of masked superheroes stories. Thanks. It's been great! This will be our last show, now that it's all been done, thanks for coming, you've been a great audience." Moore's meta-ness works brilliantly in WATCHMEN: you can't culminate a genre without being one with it, down to the stupid tights.

On the other hand, once you culminate a genre, it's probably time for you to stop telling stories in that part of the artistic landscape.

The comics are probably a decent way to slide up to Proust--the novel (it's one novel, really) takes forever to read, and having an "architectural" notion of what's going on beforehand can only help. But really, read the real thing. If I were a better man, I'd learn French and read the original.

Posted by Alex Groce at October 11, 2004 10:16 PM

> I've managed to avoid reading Pratchett for all
> of these years because I think the Discworld
> premise is stupid.

How do you feel about Niven? If you can find them, Pratchett's early non-Discworld books "Strata" and "The Dark Side of the Sun" are terrific Niven pastiches; "Strata" is the more serious of the two. I liked them very much when I read them, but didn't get a lot of the funny until I read Ringworld, The Integral Trees, Mote, etc. a few years later.

Discworld, to me, is microwave popcorn. It's easy, and you know exactly what you're going to get, and sometimes it's exactly what you want. And it makes the whole office smell of popcorn. No, wait, the metaphor got away from me there.

The thing I like best about Jasper Fforde is that he's the first humorous fantasy author in a long time who doesn't try to emulate Pratchett.

> The Books of Magic, by John Ney Reiber, various volumes.

There were some terrific stories in Reiber's run; I bailed on the book after he left. I wonder what Reiber's been doing lately?

I admire Alan Moore's work, but it always leaves me feeling like a more sordid person than I was before I read it.

Posted by Christina Schulman at October 12, 2004 10:53 AM

I certainly agree with you about the Lemony Snicket books. I tried to read one a few months ago and was just utterly uninspired.
Though you may have inspired me to go through and reread my Books of Magic. I followed the series until the last incarnation, when I moved away from Phantom of the Attic being walking distance from my place of employ.

Posted by Shelby at October 12, 2004 11:24 AM

Where's that review of Fforde's new book?

Also, have you tried the "Keys to the Kingdom" series by Garth Nix? Out so far are: _Mister Monday_ and _Grim Tuesday_.

Posted by Nerak at October 12, 2004 04:53 PM

I finished the latest Fforde book, and am...digesting it. I want to give it a good, detailed review, and not just a paragraph. I'll see if I can get it done tonight or tomorrow.

Posted by peterb at October 12, 2004 05:44 PM

> I admire Alan Moore's work, but it always leaves
> me feeling like a more sordid person than I was
> before I read it.

I don't get this. WATCHMEN and FROM HELL are a lot of things, but sordidifying I can't see (WATCHMEN, IMO, ends on notes of (1) God's-eye-view "transcendence" and (2) iron cold moral clarity in defeat). The lighter stuff like LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, I can't imagine having that effect, either. Have I been reading the wrong Moore?

Posted by Alex Groce at October 12, 2004 08:29 PM


Posted by 0o0o at April 6, 2005 01:39 PM

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