Monday, 30 January 2012

Read & Written

My reading in the past few months include:

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Old Man and The Sea" by Ernest Hemingway
We spent a week in Cuba recently so what else was I going to do but read Hemingway and drink Mojitos. Unfortunately the Mojitos at the hotel bars were too sweet - Sprite instead of Soda, an outrage - but the Hemingway's were just perfect. My two eldest boys were also deep into novels and at the end of the week they rehearsed their oral book reports for school with me; in turn I presented to them my report on "The Old Man and The Sea" and they were very moved by the tale. So was I.

In this era of e-books I rediscovered a most effective way of selecting by books for the vacation - I went to the local library. The two Hemingway's had been well read, the pages softened by many turnings, and were all the better for it.

"The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood" by James Gleick
We live in interesting times. Digital technologies are changing the world and quite possibly changing us humans too, and not necessarily for the better. There aren't that many people questioning these changes, mostly they're seen as the unavoidable result of progress, but we may yet regret where they bring us. Some of the writers who do have something interesting to say include Nicholas Carr at Rough Type and Michael Sacasas at The Frailest Thing both of whom I follow closely. This book by Gleick is an excellent analysis of how and why the digital era came about, explained not via the well worn path of micro-processors and Moore's Law but through a synthesis of the ideas that led to information theory. The central character of the very readable tale is Claude Shannon, and the central idea that of entropy - which is explained and explored quite beautifully.

"Nox" by Anne Carson
This strangely compelling book revolves around the difficulty of translating Poem 101 by Catullus, an attempt to overcome shifting meanings and uncertainties, as Carson tries to reach and understand her eccentric departed brother. It sounds pretentious but it's not - it's moving, challenging, and unlike anything I've read before.  The result of Carson's travail is a new translation of Catullus' ancient elegy for a lost brother and an evocative description of a modern family. It's presented in an unusual format, like a family scrapbook with photos and notes - it wouldn't work as an e-book. It's short but I spent hours with it and loved every minute.

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I continued my reading of Fitzgerald. No I hadn't read Gatsby before, somehow. Yes it's brilliant, completely.

"Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann
I read in a review that this was the first great novel about 9/11. Well I don't think it has much to do with that at all. Of course the fact that the story revolves around the 1973 tightrope walk between the twin towers means that the images of 9/11 are not far from the front of the reader's mind, but I think this is more about New York and how a city can connect strangers in strange ways. Although I admired and enjoyed each of the sub-plots, I felt there was a lack of an overall plot or a raison d'etre for the unity of a novel. It could just as easily have been a book of short stories - and as I write that I think there may be parallels with "Dubliners" in its structure. But it's a fine piece of writing.

"The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes
If you like Barnes, and I do, then you'll like this book. If you find him cold, pretentious, and preoccupied with style then you'll find ample evidence here to support your opinion. It's not his best book by any means - see Flaubert's Parrot or A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters for better - but he deserved to win the Booker so it might as well be for this one.

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