Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity. -- Charles Mingus

Books

I don't read much except fiction and technical computer and logic books. The latter tend to be pretty dull, so here's some recommendations of authors and books that I love.

Two authors who consistently amaze and delight are

  • Haruki Murikami: I discovered Murikami when I bought A Wild Sheep Chase on the strength of the title alone. I'm not sure that I know how to describe his work except that it presents a lightly off-kilter version of reality. Not odd enough to be genuinely off-the-wall surreal, but strange things definitely happen, and the protagonists accept them and work with it. I think that The Wind-up Bird Chronicles is probably the must-read-if-you're-only-planning-to-read-one work, but other titles include: Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Dance, Dance, Dance, Sputnik Sweetheart, Kafka on the Shore and After Dark. Bet you can't read just one.
  • Richard Powers: The Gold Bug Variations is the only novel I know that contains Prolog code. But even if that doesn't float your boat, there's a ton to enjoy here. Three interrelated stories involving the search for the genetic code and the mystery of the one-time-almost-famous protagonist, the Goldberg variations -- which I had not heard before reading this book and are as compelling as Powers' descriptions suggest (testament to both Powers and Bach -- and Flemish painting. This was the first Powers' book that I read and I am now an avid fan. His other novels include Prisoner's Dilemma, Three Farmers on the Way To A Dance, In the Time of Our Singing and The Echo Maker. In many of these books Powers explores the relationship between society and technology -- virtual reality in Plowing the Dark, artificial intelligence in Galatea 2.2, industrial chemistry in Gain (to my mind the most successful of his works.)
In the modern Scottish literature category:
  • Iain Banks: The Crow Road, Espedair Street, Complicity, The Bridge, Walking on Glass, Dead Air, Canal Dreams, A Song of Stone, Whit, The Wasp Factory
  • Christopher Brookmyre: All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye, A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away, Not the End Of the World, Boiling a Frog, Quite Ugly One Morning
  • Irvine Welsh: Trainspotting, Porno, Glue, The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, Ecstasy, The Acid House, Filth
The "Big book with great sentences" category:
  • Thomas Pynchon I am pretty sure that my brain is not large enough to wrap around any of Pynchon's novels, though I think that I managed pretty well with The Crying of Lot 49. Its enough to let the words and the sentences and the paragraphs flow by and to marvel at the pyrotechnics and hang on and enjoy the ride. I'm sure that I don't need to list V, Gravity's Rainbow, Vineland, Mason and Dixon and Against The Day, so I won't.
  • David Foster Wallace whose Infinite Jest is an astounding shaggy dog story and Everything and More is a non-fiction introduction to set theory which can also be considered literature.
  • Neal Stephenson: From Snow Crash to his "Baroque Cycle": Quicksilver, The Confusion, System of a World via Cryptonomicon. You've got to to love the plot, the vocabulary and the sentences. He writes non-fiction too: In the Beginning was the Command Line
The "Small books with great sentences" category:
  • Italo Calvino writes wonderful, spare prose to create gem-like books. I particularly love Invisible Cities, but my favourite work is probably If on a winter's night a traveller..., for the central premise which involves readers trying to read a book, but finding that they are reading a different book entirely. This give us the opportunity to write the first chapters, but no more, of many books that could be written by Calvino.
Here are some individual works that I really love
  • Samuel R. Delaney: The Neveryona books were my introduction to Delaney's work, though Stars in Your Pocket Like Grains of Sand is probably better-known. The world of Neveryon is completely involving and real. Although (perhaps because) the cycle is made up of a variety of forms: short stories, novellas and full length novels, all of which focus of different aspects of the world, the collection has a completeness that is not often found in speculative fiction.
  • The very creepy House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielowski
  • Life: A User's Manual and A Void by Georges Perec. The latter is a full-length novel written (in French) without the use of the letter 'e'. I can't decide whether the author or translator into English (Gilbert Adair) had the harder task.
  • Thomas Palliser's The Quincunx is a modern "Victorian" novel, with all of the intricasies of purloined wills, hidden codicils, the fall to extreme poverty and then rise to riches. Five families with deeply intertwined relationships. Richly fulfilling.
  • Riddley Walker by Russel Hoban. A wonderful novel written in a "worn away" dialect of English and set in a future post-apocalyptic Kent.
  • Dictionary of the Khazars by Milodrad Pavic

No comments:

Post a Comment