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Posts Tagged ‘books’

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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Maureen Dowd and Philip K. Dick in Space

Posted by samgr on December 30, 2009

Damn it, Maureen Dowd.  From her column:

Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travelers could see we had made no progress toward a technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe.

We seemed to still be behind the curve and reactive, patting down grannies and 5-year-olds, confiscating snow globes and lip glosses.

Completely ignoring the fact that this whole column is kind of stupid and pointless — what Philip K. Dick depictions of technological utopias is she referring to, exactly?  Are there any?  He’s not exactly known for his boundless faith in ability of technology to positively transform society.  I hate to be Debbie Downer, but I have some skepticism whether Maureen Dowd has ever read anything by Philip K. Dick.

Namedropping sci-fi authors is fine if you have some vague idea what you’re talking about, but they’re not interchangeable.  Also, technological utopias are pretty clearly the exception, rather than the rule, in science fiction.  Dystopias are more common, probably because they’re more fun to write about.

To transform my irritation into a positive exercise: what are some actual technological utopias in science fiction?  The world of Star Trek is one.  Iain Banks’ Culture novels basically are, although they’re sophisticated enough to challenge their own premise.  Ray Bradbury I think — although he obviously writes about dystopias — has at his heart a pretty profound faith that technology is ultimately positive.  See the story “No News, or What Killed the Dog,” which I think I’ve mentioned before.


While I immediately fixated on the Dick thing, other readers are pointing out that the column in question is actually full of utterly bizarre and nonsensical references.

Here’s my new, and incredibly generous take on what she’s trying to suggest, though.  She mentions “Total Recall,” which I think has a scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger walks through a machine in an airport and we see his skeleton and concealed weapons on a screen.  My best guess is that Maureen dimly remembers this scene as some kind of ideal model of airport security, and vastly overestimates the movie’s reliance on Philip K. Dick source material.  That’s what I got, but it’s pretty weak.

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Hooray for the New Cambridge Library!

Posted by samgr on November 17, 2009

So I’m taking a couple weeks of vacation to get my affairs in order.  Thought it would be a good time to give the old blog some love.

Basically the most important that has happened in the recent past is the much-awaited opening of the NEW CAMBRIDGE MAIN LIBRARY, which is amazing. The old Richardsonian brick building was completely fixed up, and a new super-green, super-glassy, super-modern wing was also added. Here are my impressions, in no particular order.

The combined building is really gigantic now, which is awesome. Lots of great spaces for reading and browsing, nice open shelves. The renovated old building is particularly gorgeous, with dark wood-paneling and restored WPA murals that tell the story of the history of books and printing. The new wing is very nice, too. Spacious, with lots of great view to the park outside through gigantic windows which basically make up one huge wall of the building. There’s a great kids section which takes up the whole top floor of the new wing and totally would have been my favorite place in the world when I was 10 or something. There’s also a gerbil cage built into the info desk up there, which I’m sure is great for kids, but possibly not the best thing for the gerbils.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the building and layout, but there are a few exceptions. Why banish adult fiction to the windowless basement, along with graphic novels and sci-fi? That’s kind of sad, since that’s where I’ll be looking the bulk of the time. I think I read somewhere that one of the head librarian’s conditions for the building was not to squirrel away the kid’s section in the basement. I’m all for that, but why do it to fiction instead? Why not put fiction in the nice old building’s second floor, which is now given over to office space that visitors can’t go up to?
The old building also has a big beautiful reading room, which for some reason is where the large print books are. Maybe this is so there won’t be much traffic there to disturb readers (and what traffic there is will be quiet elderly people), but it still seems a little arbitrary. There is a big YA section in the old building, which is a great idea.

The old building also has a truly gigundous ten commandments taking up one whole wall, which is problematic for obvious reasons. The library’s solution is that they have sort of a screen-curtain-thing that they pull over to cover it most of the time. This seems fine, although I wonder how they decide when to pull it down and when to leave it up — just in response to alternating complaints? I almost would rather they just let the ten commandments stay, it’s part of the building and is more or less a historical artifact. But I understand the issue. Maybe they could have put up things from other belief systems to contextualize it? I don’t know; it’s a tricky line to walk.

The library doesn’t seem to have any kind of community board or wall-space for info about performances and such. This seems like a lost opportunity for a such a great community building.

Basically the library is amazing and I’ll be spending a lot of time there. Congratulations to the city and the librarians for putting together something so awesome!

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