Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer reading (some beach books, some not)

Philip K. Dick "A Scanner Darkly"
Everyone should read this book. Funny, scary, compassionate, depressing and mind-bending, it's easily the best depiction of users and their circuitous conversations, paranoia and earnest foolishness I've ever seen/read. Having been friends with some real-life versions of characters in this book, the shit hit close to home. And, the plot, my god, the plot: Bob Archer is a Substance D addict. Bob Archer is also Fred, a undercover narcotics officer. When Fred reports to his superiors, he wears a holographic suit that disguises his appearance. Fred is assigned to report on Bob Archer's "suspicious" activities. As Archer/Fred becomes more dependent on Substance D, a drug the splits the brain's left and right hemisphere, he begins to compartmentalize his two identities until they are separate people. Is Fred, Bob, or is Bob, Fred? — all kinds of themes of identity are at play here, and "A Scanner Darkly" is easily some of PKD's best work. [My favorite PKD book is likely "Ubik," but I would also highly recommend "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" (the basis for "Blade Runner") as well as "The Man in the High Castle."] A

Stieg Larsson "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"
This one falls more into the beach reading category, despite the occasionally dense paragraph detailing some financial scandal. Apparently everyone in America is reading this Swede's book, so why should I be any different? I couldn't put it down, and it definitely had its hooks in me — and why wouldn't it, with a journo as the main character, an the other being a hacker-punk chick who rides a motorcycle? I loved it, despite some questionable journalistic ethics in the final 100 pages, and an uneven writing style that occasionally jeers into an editorial voice. But, the book weaves a tale of corporate corruption, journalism, a family murder plot and buried secrets into a thriller that, you know, thrills. (Larsson was a magazine editor who wrote three books in this series before dieing in 2004. I have not yet read the other two, but this one could have used a bit more editing, me thinks. They were posthumously published.) B+

Dave Eggers "What is the What"
"What is the What" is tagged as fiction only because it tells the odyssey of Valentino Achak Deng who fled genocide in Sudan in the '80s for the United States, and Eggers had to recreate dialogue and some details to fill in Deng's memory. The story at large is purely non-fiction. Eggers frames the story from the present, as Deng is taken hostage during a sloppy robbery in his Atlanta apartment, and tells his story of escape from Sudan in the first person to his new, American captors, oddly addressing them directly. I didn't finish this, because I was reading it on vacation and then lost momentum when I got home and had shit to do. But it was engrossing for several hundred pages before becoming a bit repetitive. Deng went through several levels of hell — machetes, machine guns, fire, starvation, dehydration, disease, lions and then American robbery. Former 7' 7" NBA center Manute Bol hailed from the same tribe as Deng and fled the same atrocities. The book added new meaning and gravity to the memory of Bol, for me, who is often regarded as not much more than a circus act. Bol gave away most his NBA millions to Sudan relief efforts and died this summer 47. B+


A Mixed Tape said...

I have not read any of those titles, but will consider them the next time I'm at the bookstore/library.

I will suggest to you The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. It is a great fictional narrative with an immense amount of cultural history weaved into it. It's the story of a D&D nerd trying defy an age-old family curse, and lead a happy life and find love. The curse isn't really a curse, just the result of geography, culture, family, and poor choices.

It is probably my favorite book of the last few years.

Warped Coasters said...

ill have to check that out. i think im gonna try to tackle "Infinite Jest" next.