01 May 2008

Recent Reading, May 2008 Edition

Just a few quick thoughts on some books I’ve read recently:

I realize I’m about six months or so late to the party with this book; now you can barely mention it in public without a dozen people rolling their eyes at you in boredom. But the number of people you’ll run into who’ve read it, are reading it, or have been berated by their spouses that they ought to read it, is a testament to how important this book is. If you’re one of the 15 people remaining in the country who haven’t heard of it yet, it’s worth your time. (If you’re in a desperate hurry, only read the first half, since it’s the most important.)

At some point I’ll probably write in greater depth about it, but suffice it to say for now that it completely changed my (admittedly ignorant) views on a number of food-related topics. NY Times Book Review

I’m a big fan of Scalzi after reading his debut novel Old Man’s War. This is a sequel, or at least a follow-up, set in the same universe. I thought it was solid, and would heartily recommend it to anyone who liked OMW.

I picked this up from Amazon at the same time I was ordering The Ghost Brigades, simply because it’s Scalzi’s newest book. It’s a stand-alone, and it has a significantly different pace and tone than OMW/TGB. I think my feelings for it might have been colored somewhat by reading it back-to-back with Ghost Brigades; although The Android’s Dream is good, it’s a bit of a jarring transition. (My biggest thought throughout reading it was that this is what L. Ron Hubbard’s Mission Earth books could have been, if LRH hadn’t been a crazy, racist, homophobic, misogynist with a dearth of talent and a team of religious sycophants instead of an editor. Okay, so on reconsideration it has nothing at all in common.) Overall I don’t think it’s Scalzi’s best work – that’s Old Man’s War, by a mile – but it was certainly better than par for the course.

I don’t normally read books out of spite, but this was an exception. I decided to read Pullman’s trilogy only after hearing about the “controversy” it had generated within the Christian Right, on the assumption that anything that pisses off a bunch of thin-skinned religious nutbags must have at least some redeeming value.

As it turns out, I was about half right. I thought the books were pretty decent overall, and significantly milder in terms of content than I’d been expecting based on the boycott threats the movie received. As a treatise on or introduction to humanism it’s not much, but I suppose that’s better than becoming a Randian discourse on the subject.

The other accusation I’ve heard leveled at the series – namely that it promotes or condones age-inappropriate sexual behavior – doesn’t seem to stand up, either. Without going into great detail on the plot, I’ll just say that the author certainly doesn’t venture (at least in literal descriptions) anywhere that wouldn’t be rated “PG-13”. If readers look between the lines and see more than that going on, that’s really their own business – and really says more about them than it does about Pullman.

Overall I don’t think there’s much reason for adults to pick up the series, unless you interact with younger readers or just want to keep tabs (as I do) on whatever has the far-Right’s panties in a bunch this week. I’d recommend the books with limited reservations to most open-minded junior-high/highschool age readers or their parents; the only real exception would be to students who’ve already pressed on to more complex speculative fiction. (Personally, I can only imagine my younger self being impressed by His Dark Materials if I’d come across it before I’d discovered Heinlein; after that I think it would have seemed a bit tame.)

And in no particular order, my current reading list for the next few months:

I’m especially looking forward to reading Venkatesh’s book, since I found the chapters discussing his work to be the most interesting parts of Freakonomics; I’m curious to see if his conclusions are the same as Dubner and Levitt’s.

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