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Interesting/Important Fictional Libraries

Posted by samgr on August 7, 2010

Derry Public Library, from It

Yuriatin Public Library, from Doctor Zhivago

Library of Books Never Written, from The Sandman

That’s all I can think of at the moment.  I know second-hand of some others, in Eco for instance, but I’m not listing them until I’ve read the respective books.  This list will hopefully grow longer.  Kind of sad at the moment.


Forgot a couple of fairly obvious (and similar) ones-

Hogwarts Library, from Harry Potter

Unseen University Library, from Discworld


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Neal Stephenson’s “The Big U”

Posted by samgr on July 20, 2010

Thought I might try to get back into the swing of things with some reviews.

I recently finished “The Big U” by Neal Stephenson.  I understand that Stephenson is not very proud of this book, but I enjoyed it.  If anything, I was just a little surprised by  how dark and cynical it is.

It’s a satire of university life, where the university in question is based very loosely on BU; it’s basically BU if everyone lived in a nightmarish dystopian version of Warren Towers.

So we follow a bunch of mostly likable — if pathetic — characters through their travails.  And things get odder and odder until a full-scale civil war erupts in the university, and there are giant radioactive rats running all over the place.  It’s all very imaginative and well put-together, even if it’s ultimately kind of unclear what the point is besides the fact that Neal Stephenson must had a dreadful time at BU.

But lots of neat ideas, from early mention of the similarities between pipe organs and computers — which Stephenson goes into great length about in the Cryptonomicon — to great creepy scenes of drug-blasted bros in their dorms worshiping an obvious analog of the Citgo sign.  I would recommend it for the quality of the writing no matter how scattered it is.

Also, I’ve still never actually read “Gormenghast” — tried a few times without success — but “The Big U” seems a bit like what you’d get if you applied sort of the “Gormenghast” approach — big and exaggerated, decaying, and a bit anachronistic — to a University setting, which is interesting, and something I’ve thought about.

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Sound! Fury! Blaah! Argh!

Posted by samgr on May 26, 2008

Continuing my quest to plug embarrassing holes in my reading history, I’m trying to address the fact that I’d never read ANY Faulkner. So, the Sound and the Fury away!

First thought: depressing. And sort of hard to connect with for me. The decline of an aristocratic Southern family is very alien to my experiences. Of course, so are, say, orcs, but I felt more of a disconnect with Fury than I have with other novels I’ve read.

Second thought: I actually liked the book, but I didn’t really wake up until the third section. See section-by-section analysis:

Benjamin Compson, idiot brother— meh. (Reading Augie March now, whats the deal with idiot brothers?)

Quentin Compson, depressed emo Harvard kid— meh times a hundred. I don’t have to READ about that.

Jason Compson, angry son-of-a bitch shopkeeper with twin devil-horn spit-curls— BING! I’m paying attention now; we’re back in Plainview-Hearst-land. Tell me what happens! (Spoiler: he comes back to Jefferson and makes a carriage go the other way around a statue. Um… okay. No milkshake?)

Caddy Compson, promiscuous… whoops, not gonna hear from her. “Psych!” says Faulkner, “No female narrator for you!” Instead, we get William Faulkner, omniscient narrator and— Dialect. Lots and lots of dialect. Why do black people talk in dialect and white people don’t, even when we’re no longer inhabiting a white narrator?

This all is kind of hyper-kinetic, and seems like I didn’t like the book, but I think I did. I’m just still digesting it and working out my reactions.

Posted in books, reviews, William Faulkner | 4 Comments »


Posted by samgr on May 9, 2008

Hey, I’m still alive. So, I see on Apple Trailers that they’re making a movie out of Blindness, the novel by Jose Saramago. I read the book when I was down in Costa Rica, pretty much purely by chance. I found it in a hostel’s book-swap shelf. But I thought it was incredible. Also very cinematic: I was picturing it as a movie as I was reading it.

The short version is that there’s a mysterious epidemic of blindness in a city. (Unclear exactly where it takes place, whether it’s Europe or Latin America or whatever.) The affected end up getting herded into a containment facility in an ex-psychiatric ward, where they are more or less abandoned by the authorities and terrible, terrible things happen.

For the character of the doctor’s wife—who pretends to be blind but can actually see—I had dream-cast Mary McDonnell (President Roslin) in my head. Looks like in this version it’s going to be Julianne Moore. Okay, but I like my idea better.

Also, I imagine that the movie is not going to be able to be quite as horrific and gruesome as the book is in parts, or it would end up rated NC-17. I don’t know what I think about this. The novel plays a neat narrative trick where the most horrible things that happen near the end you don’t actually see, the author only describes the sounds. So the reader becomes blind, too, for a while. I kind of hope the movie does this too; it’s very doable. Just fade to white and hear what happens.

In any case, this reminds me to go to the library and check out some more of Saramago’s books, which I had planned to do but forgotten about.

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Literary Haikus: The Diary of Anne Frank (In Poor Taste)

Posted by samgr on March 25, 2008

The Diary of Anne Frank

Dear Kitty, I have
a crush on every boy.
Ack… (dead of typhus).

Posted in Anne Frank, books, haikus | 2 Comments »

Literary Haikus: The Last Battle

Posted by samgr on March 24, 2008

The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis

“We love Narnia!”
“Good, ’cause you’re dead and can’t leave.
P.S. I’m Jesus.”

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Literary Haikus: No Country for Old Men

Posted by samgr on March 24, 2008

No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy

Hey, I found some cash.
Sure, I’ll bring you some water.
Aaah! Shit shit shit shit!

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How About UNDERrated Books?

Posted by samgr on March 11, 2008

I was going to write about more things I thought were overrated, but I couldn’t go through with it. I’ve decided that talking about things that are UNDERrated is less misanthropic. You can make the point that a lot of people don’t know about something, rather than helpfully pointing out that you are right and everyone else is wrong.

Anyway, my underrated book nomination is Loving, by Henry Green. It’s probably one of my favorite… I dunno… four or five books I’ve ever read, and not many people have even heard of it. It’s about a manor house in Ireland during World War II, and it’s written in this pretty much indescribable style — strange and sparse, mostly dialogue, but also occasionally wildly lyrical and descriptive to the point of being bizarre. The tone actually reminds me of Shirley Jackson, although I’m not sure why; it’s obviously not a horror book in any way.

Come to think of it, I may not be using “underrated” correctly. I think there are probably not many people who have read Loving and think it’s bad… Whatever, the real title of this post should be “Loving: A Book that I Like.”

Seriously though, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is stupid.

“Come along then.” said Jonathan. “Climb with me away from the ground, and we’ll begin.”
“You don’t understand. My wing. I can’t move my wing.”
“Maynard Gull, you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way. It is the Law of the Great Gull, the Law that Is.”
“Are you saying I can fly?”
“I say you are free.”


Posted in books, Henry Green, reviews, Shirley Jackson | 2 Comments »

Overrated Books

Posted by samgr on March 10, 2008

I just read this NYTimes blog post about overrated books. I think the whole exercise is a little nasty; by definition, calling things overrated is kind of saying that you’re right and everyone else is wrong, but it’s irresistible anyway. My sole nomination, for now, is Jonathan Livingston Seagull... if that even counts as a book.

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The Lost Dickens Novel: Dinosaur Destroys London

Posted by samgr on February 24, 2008

Thought this was kind of cool. I’m reading Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, and the first page includes this crazy description:

“LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.”

This has to be one the first mentions of dinosaurs in literature, right? The first part of Bleak House was written in 1852. Awesome! Dickens stays on the bleeding edge. It’s also great because it’s basically a one-sentence-long description of what would be a pretty incredible monster movie. A Megalosaurus (based on Victorian-era reconstructions of course) attacks Victorian London. Mr. Micawber is devoured screaming.

Posted in books, Charles Dickens, dinosaurs, prehistory | 1 Comment »