In case I am crushed under a pile of books…
There’s the Golden Age mystery newly translated from Japanese, the book about Edgar Allan Poe and the “cosmic flaneur” that I thought might be related to the novel I’m revising (and isn’t, really, but is interesting), the extremely weird novel about a tiny person, the nonfiction book about how different people experience a walk around a city block, (what is likely) the oldest novel which I just started yesterday, and now, today, two brand new books come into the library that just jumped to the head of the queue, Francis Hardinge’s new fantasy, and Robert McCammon’s new Matthew Corbett book…
Book diary: Beware of Pity
I read an old copy of this, which was very pleasant. The book itself is wild; Wes Anderson took some of the structure and plot for Grand Budapest Hotel, but not the really twisted part. Current mores make the narrator of the story (not the frame narrator but the one in the story he tells) much more of a jerk than I think Stefan Zweig intended. The story is gripping, anyway, an internal melodrama.
Book diary: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
I’ve had a vague project over the past few years to read all of the best Philip K. Dick books. I have just a few left. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was technically a reread, though it must have been more than 25 years ago that I read it. I didn’t like it much then! I had a book of Dick’s stories that I loved, and I think Do Androids was his first novel I attempted. Too weird, sad, slow, and peculiar. (I didn’t like Blade Runner either, at the time.)
I enjoyed it more this time around, though wow, what a bleak world. Dick’s seemingly built-in sexism is more noticeable here than some of his other books, which adds to the strikingly uncomfortable setting. It is impressive how Blade Runner neatly pulled out just one thread of Dick’s big, weird tapestry, but everything ties together so much better with all of the other threads intact: the “mood organs” that let people adjust their minds at will, raising the question of how “real” these people are anyway, the fixation on owning rare live animals that drives the whole plot, the weird and creepy VR religion “Mercerism” that is designed to spread empathy, the way Earth is decaying into “kipple,” Dick’s term for the results of entropy.
I still did find the book weird, sad, slow, and peculiar, but I guess I appreciate those qualities more now?
Book diary: The Custom of the Country
Finished Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country this morning. I really got the sense that Wharton knew the settings of this book intimately, each one a slightly bigger gilded prison than the last.
That prison is what the title refers to: the rules of polite society that bind Undine Spragg, the main character. She’s a “main character” in today’s sense as well, pretty much only alive when she’s the center of attention. What a wonderful character. Sure, she is a horrible shallow monster, but what she’s fighting against, the weight of tradition amongst the rich, is terrible too, so it’s quite easy to root for her to succeed.
Apparently Julian Fellowes was inspired by Custom when he created Downton Abbey, though I wish that he had included characters as good as Undine and the various husbands she burns through…
The character names are great, as I mentioned before. I particularly like Wharton’s (maybe not very nice, but funny, so it’s okay?) parody of “Midwestern” names. Most of the characters from the fictional Apex City have brutal, simple last names like Spragg, Binch, and Frusk. Having young Mabels, Millards, and Elmers running around is delightful, too. That type of name might now suggest “old person,” but once they were at the height of fashion!
Reading Diary: The Custom of the Country
I’m about halfway through Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. I’ll have some more to say soon. For now: what good character names! The main character is brilliantly named “Undine Spragg,” but my favorite is the society painter Claud Walsingham Popple, who is exactly like how his name sounds.
It’s been a while.
In the last few years I’ve gotten tired of social media’s constant manipulations for the benefit of corporate entities, and also tired of not having a more stable home on the internet where I can write about the things that interest me and tell people about my projects. This site will be a place where I do just that. Thanks for joining me!
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