Old and New Books

When I left my previous employer, I received a fairly sizeable Amazon gift-card to feed my then-imminent Kindle-habit on my train-ride to my new-job.

I have been making some steady progress through the list of classics that I had never read before. Some, little curious time capsules (“A Passage To India”), others quaint in their stilted morals (“The Age Of Innocence”). But so far most disappointing is the third of “On The Road” that I have read so far. For a book that gets praised so much it doesn’t really stand out to me. Maybe I am reading it at the wrong time though; perhaps it is just old enough not to be directly relevant, but not so old that it is a glimpse into the past. Or maybe I’m just missing the point of it completely.

As I struggle to reduce my reading list, David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) has succeeded in lengthening it significantly.

I went to see him speak during the Sydney Writers Festival with my friend Ken. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I only knew him from the one book through his writing. He walked onto the stage a little huddled in on himself, and I was fearful of disappointment.

The first question from the interviewer was a clear lead-in to his current book. It sounded like the back-cover-summary rephrased as a pointless question. He repeated what sounded like a fairly rehearsed answer, probably from months of promoting. He apologised for being seriously jet-lagged.

And then he unfurled into what I can only describe as somewhat of a modern-day philosopher, with a slight lanky Cumberbatch-alike appearance, and a British humble shy-ness, with the most thoughtful and poignant answers rolling out of his brain like he was on a script that only he was privy to.

Earlier that day I had attended a session with Alan Cummings on the subject of domestic violence growing up, to promote his new book around that subject. At the end the audience was invited to ask questions, culminating in an aspiring actress making me cringe inwards as she proceeded to solicit acting tips from Alan.

I was braced for the worst when the floor opened for questions to David Mitchell. But I was surprised and delighted by the thoughtful questions on the meaning of his works, and humanity, and the symbolism of birds. And he’d take a few moments of silence and then again produce an answer that’d fill script-writers with envy. Maybe everyone in the audience was a plant? And I feel confident that even faced with the dullest imaginable questions he’d have found a deeper or more humorous way to look at them and keep us entertained.

So, now I have The Bone Clocks to look forward to reading next.

I’m almost ready to ditch “On The Road” for it, if not for the fact that I only once before abandoned a book without finishing it. I am too stubborn to give up.

Last Day

I cannot exactly say that 8 weeks felt like the blink of an eye. They definitely felt like A-Long-Time-tm.

And I feel a little guilty about how little of consequence I have done with it, but not too much.

I have managed to re-establish a workable gym routine that had been suffering from too many interruptions last year from around August till November. I can actually do Body Attack again without dying, and my legs feel mostly okay after an hour.

I have read a half dozen fairly lengthy books from the large pile I was indirectly gifted by my former co-workers (a gift certificate well spent!)

I have watched way too many movies, way too much TV, and had a few nice do-nothing days along the way too.

And most importantly, I feel completely relaxed.
Which bodes well for tomorrow, the coming month, and the years beyond.

Campaign Monitor, here I come!
I must remember to take pictures along the way.

Thomas Covenant – Unbeliever

I finished.

Last week, after reading through my many Melbourne journeys for work and many weekends over coffee, I finally closed the tenth volume of the Thomas Covenant series. And to be frank; I am feeling a little relieved to be done.

This series of books revolves around Covenant; on paper the most unlikeable antihero imaginable. Filled with self-loathing, anger and numerous anti-social traits. An author, diagnosed with leprosy, wife lost, child taken, universally feared and despised.

The stuff great stories are made of, clearly.

I vaguely recalled reading some or all of the series when I was much younger, which prompted me to give them another comprehensive shot since the last book was only released in 2013.

The first three books in the series are a trilogy released from 1977 to 1979, and they are unambiguously great, albeit somewhat bleak and challenging in parts (note: trigger warning for rape if you decide to read it). But I would strongly recommend not to read beyond, because the second trilogy and the last four books are increasingly fainter copies of the original. Which is a shame, because after the first three books I really wanted the remaining seven to be of the same calibre.

The first trilogy has a very memorable list of characters; Lord Foul (the antagonist) has some wonderfully evocative and malevolent mono/dialogue, the Lords struggling to recover past knowledge without despair,  the Haruchai warrior race with a very demanding personal ethic. And Covenant throughout balancing his struggle with self-loathing, uncertainty whether his experience is even real, and transcending his own limitations for a growing investment in the people he wrongs along the way.

Even knowing about “clench racing” (look it up!) and noticing the tic more as a result didn’t diminish the strength of the storytelling.

The great thing about the second trilogy is that it cleverly uses the fact that time flows faster in his fantasy alternate reality than in our real world to have 10 years in Covenants life put him 3000 years into the future in this alternate reality. A chance to create a completely new setting for the world, a new challenge, a new iteration of the struggle with lord Foul. What diminishes it though is the fact it turns into ever more fantasy-travel-porn… gratuitously labouring from one side of the world to another to get object X to challenge foe Y in increasing order of challenge. Grinding is no more fun in books than it is in WoW.

Add to this the fact that he has a somewhat painfully whiny companion in Linden Avery along for the ride. I understand what she is for, and intellectually the exploration of her personality is interesting enough… it just doesn’t make for very entertaining or relaxing reading in any other way than as an intellectual exercise.

And this is where the last four books become ever more dreary. For starters Covenant doesn’t appear until the third book at all; it’s all Linden all the time, crumpling into herself in despair over the challenges in front of her, setting herself progressively less lofty goals until she basically dooms the world when she brings back Covenant. It feels like her role was more to drive the story to such a deep crises as to challenge Covenant sufficiently to fix it all again. Add to this a veritable constellation of bad guys all trying to do them in at the same time for differing agendas, and add more travel-porn into the mix, and it feels like the only person to whom the story must have been enjoyable was the author.

The only reason I didn’t give up before the end?

I was morbidly curious to see how the author was going to get himself out of the knots he was setting up. Yes. I meta-read, not so much the story as the author. Also… spoiler: Deus-Ex, a million times. Ugh.

In short: I heartily recommend the original trilogy… just pretend nothing else happens after it. Lord Foul is defeated. He never recovered from the damage done by Covenant. You’ll save yourself several months of increasing agony.

Day 235 – Kinokuniya

First of all, lest I leave you wondering, the gym went well this morning. When I said I had been unwell earlier in the week, Nikki was very concerned that I shouldn’t over-exert myself; I was more concerned to properly separate my week and my weekend. Her classes always fill me with some trepidation upfront, and end it calm and satisfaction. This weekend was no different.

As I was driving home I saw the most terrifying thing ever. I wish I had been able to take a picture without feeling even more terrified of my snapping-while-driving. A big motorcycle overtook my car; it was doing one of those weaving-around-through-slow-cars moves.

The driver was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Which is bad. Terrifyingly bad. But he made his own decision and that’s fine. He had what I assumed to be his daughter on the back. By the look of her, probably a 12-year-old. Also, in shorts and a t-shirt. And he looked like he was showing off a little for her entertainment. I try not to let the images invade my mind’s eye, but I still physically cringe.

These are called "Books"
These are called “Books”

I bought a very quick coffee along the way home. And then I had two very quick sandwiches at the kitchen bench. I had to catch a train into the city with Lexi for some quality nothing-to-do-with-helping-her-study time.

On the platform waiting for my train I encountered the first batch of teenagers travelling to the city. Overhearing their conversation I learned a great many things that aren’t fit to blog, as well as the fact that apparently “selfies” are cool once more. Clearly Ellen is the modern-day trend-setter for the 18-25 crowd.

I had to wait at the next station for Lexi to get there. Luckily I had brought supplies, including my bluetooth headset, allowing me to enjoy some Dan Savage while I was waiting.

At the station, a small accident occurred on the stairs. A girl had slipped and was curled up on the stairs not getting up. Her friend looked concerned for her, then concerned for the time, then distraught at missing the opening act for the music festival that all the teens on the trains were heading for. Plans are stressful. She didn’t cope well. The toppled girl managed to stand up later and get up the stairs, presumably on her way to the hospital to get checked out.

Our Just Desserts
Our Just Desserts

Along the way to the city we encountered a batch of bogans that seemed to spend most of their time in between carriages to smoke. Three-four of them. Crammed into a tiny space outside between moving carriages. It’s a miracle nothing went wrong. They also were very obsessed with selfies.

Once we got to Central the party girl of that group was trying to entice Lexi and myself to come along to the music festival. She was Thai. She didn’t speak much English. She acted very drunk, regardless of whether she was or not. We tried to politely decline, and she wasn’t taking the hint. Luckily Bogan-Mum stepped in and helped us out there.

The first main feature of our trip was a visit to Kinokuniya in the city. It is a store containing many “Books” which are bound bundles of paper that contain words that form coherent stories when read in sequential order.

My Acquisition
My Acquisition

I was more interested in having a browse in the comics section. I had never partaken of this particular section of nerd-dom before, but I am enjoying The Walking Dead, and I have heard many good things about the comics on the Nerdist podcast. And I decided I wanted to dive in.

I walked out with compendium one and two, which cover a good chunk of the available issues. I haven’t opened them yet. I intend to shortly as a reward for finishing this post.

Next, Lexi led me down Pitt Street to go to Westfields. I wasn’t sure where exactly we were going, and I was no more enlightened when she led me onto the longest escalator I had ever seen. It was the express escalator directly to level 5 of the centre.

It contains the most wondrous food court I’ve ever seen. It has no McDonalds. It has no KFC. It has mostly (only?) stores that I had never seen before. I need to go here many more times to sample more of the wares.

For “lunch” I had a chicken shish on top of a pile of vegetables. I felt slightly smug at the lack of carbs. Then we went to the pastry shop and I had a delicious “Pistachio Cake” with the worst hot chocolate I’ve had in a long time. They know their cakes. They flub their hot beverages.

I had a great day.

And now I need to have a quick outside-shower (don’t ask), and then I shall open Compendium One and have a look at what’s inside.

Day 229 – Hope for the Human Race

I guess the universe realised I needed some encouragement after yesterday, so today my day started with two encouraging stands taken in my RSS feed.

First, sad news from South Carolina, where apparently the entire summer reading program got de-funded by the legislature over the inclusion of a book by Alison Bechdel. But don’t worry, the legislature was just concerned about the literary merit of the work:

Representative Garry Smith said that the book “didn’t merit scholarly consideration” because it “graphically shows lesbian acts.”

The good news in this story that I have chosen to focus on though is that the college president has decided not to cave to the pressure:

P. George Benson said, “Any legislative attempt to tie institutional funding to what books are taught, or who teaches them, threatens the credibility and reputation of all South Carolina public universities.”

That’s no doubt not an easy decision to make. A fund-raiser has since started to replace the lost funds. And I’m silently hoping that a certain celebrity from South Carolina with a high-profile television program might chip in to thwart this stupid attempt at censorship.

Then right on the heels of that story my feed spat out Tim Cook. I almost skip over Apple stories reflexively because I’m just not that interested, but the climate change angle in the headline drew me in.

Apparently during the annual shareholder meeting, one of the attendees was suggesting that Apple should be fighting legislation and requirements for green initiatives and not “preëmptively rolling over” by going beyond the mere requirements of the law.

Apparently Tim had a very brief stock-tip for this investor and all like him.
“Get Out”:

Cook responded that there are many things Apple does because they are right and just, and that a return on investment (ROI) was not the primary consideration on such issues. ‘When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind. I don’t consider the bloody ROI,’ said Cook. ‘We do a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive, We want to leave the world better than we found it.’ Danhof’s proposal was voted down and to any who found the company’s environmental dedication either ideologically or economically distasteful, Cook advised ‘if you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.'”

I still don’t want any Apple devices due to other parts of their ideology, but at least this I can applaud them for. Maybe I should stay away from their devices but invest in their stock? Although that still doesn’t sit quite right morally.

The rest of the day was fairly low-key.
But much more upbeat than yesterday.