sun, 04-mar-2007, 12:40

Books Acquired

  • Sam Harris. 2004. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. (gift)
  • Peter Hessler. 2001. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. (gift)
  • J. Anthony Lukas. 1997. Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America.
  • Zadie Smith. 2000. White Teeth: A Novel.

Books Read

  • Thomas Pynchon. 2006. Against the Day.
  • Audrey Niffenegger. 2003. The Time Traveler's Wife. (gift)
  • Peter Hessler. 2001. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. (gift)

I finally finished Against the Day after three months of deliberately working my way through it. I took copious notes (filling two and a half sections of a journal book) and both contributed to, and benefited from the wiki devoted to the book. I'm not exactly sure what to make of the book now that I'm finished with it. It was a great book, but it's always hard to read a book when you feel like you have to study while you're reading. There were days when I came home from work, and just didn't feel like investing the energy it would take to read, write, and cross-reference so that I could get as much from it as it deserved.

I'm often called on to describe (often, defend) why I think Unix, and Unix tools, are better than the more popular alternatives. The point I always try to make is that Unix is an expert system, meaning it takes expertise to use it, and because of the richness and complexity of the system, there's always something more to learn. For a beginner, they're a pain to use because there's such a steep learning curve. But once you've learned enough to go forward, it is much easier to apply what you've learned to new, unique, and difficult tasks that are impossible in the simpler, restrictive box that a non-expert system places you in. Pynchon is the literature version of an expert system. It's a lot of work just to read it, but it's obvious once you do that not only have you gotten something unique out of it, you will get much, much more when you read it again.

The next book I read was The Time Traveller's Wife, and I enjoyed it so much, I was tempted to start reading it all over again right after I finished it. Not because a second read would be all that much more revealing, but because I wanted to be back in the world of Henry and Clare. It was the perfect antidote to Against the Day, yielding rich rewards with the simple effort of reading.

I finished the month out with Peter Hessler's memoir of his time teaching with the Peace Corps in China. I'd read some of his writing in The New Yorker and was a little worried that the book might seem too much like a series of columns in book form, but that wasn't the case at all. The Hessler who starts the book upon arriving in China is very different from the guy at the end, and the journey from one to the other was very entertaining. I also feel like I learned something about what makes China so different from the United States. The way the Chinese government deals with their own troubled history and the conflict between "Communisim with Chinese Character" and capitalism is pretty interesting when viewed from a rural backwater like the small town Hessler taught in.

tags: books 
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