Added to the wishlist: How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One

[Book] Via a review that’s interesting in and of itself, in the FT:

“Fish is a sentence connoisseur who describes his enthusiasm as akin to a sports fan’s love of highlights, and relishes the craft… [The book shows] the form and rhythm of sentences communicates as much meaning as their factual content, whether we’re conscious of it or not. In 1863, when General Grant took the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last hindrance to free passage of Union supplies along the river, President Lincoln wrote in a letter to be read at a public meeting: ‘The father of waters again goes unvexed to the sea.’ It’s a poem of a sentence, ‘The father of waters’ and ‘unvexed to the sea’ perfectly balanced on the unexpected pivot of ‘again goes’ rather than ‘goes again’, and all in the service of a metaphor that figures the Union as an inevitable force and the Confederacy as a blight on nature, without mentioning either.”

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One

Added to the wishlist: On Roads

[Book] Having moved from the North to the Home counties when I was 11, then to York for University, then Norwich, and then London, I grew up on the M1, M6 and A1. Asylum’s lovely review of On Roads meant it headed straight to the wishlist:

“On Roads deals mainly with the motorway era, beginning with the first stretch of the M1, completed in 1959 and the subject of such excitement that it had four press openings… On the M1′s first weekend, “nearly all its overbridges were crowded with sightseers”, and the transport minister, Ernest Marples, sounded a note of Mr Cholmondeley-Warner when he advised that ‘on this magnificent road the speed which can easily be reached is so great that the senses may be numbed and judgement warped’… Moran is equally appealing on the psychology of driving, the ‘terra nulla of the roadside verge’, and motorway service stations with their ‘rich seam of English ordinariness and gone-to-seed glamour.'”

On Roads, by Joe Moran.

Added to the wishlist: Lights Out For The Territory

[Book] The tiniest remarks can spark in me the biggest desire to read something. In this case, it was reading through William Gibson’s blog (he’s back at it now his new novel, Zero History, is done*). He’s taking questions:

“From Mean Old Man:
Q Essays. You’re really, really good at those. I read a few of yours a while ago, and was lastingly impressed; Tokyo, watches, one about U2… How do those happen?

A Thank you. It was my first literary form. It was probably your first too. It can happen a number of ways. Ones that involve really expensive free plane tickets (Singapore, Tokyo, say). Ones that involve being asked to consider things I’m peculiarly interested in at the time (the eBay watch one). Ones where I feel honored to have been asked (the centenary of Orwell’s birth) though in some cases I’ve declined out of feeling unworthy. (I declined to write an obituary for Wm. S. Burroughs, but mainly because he was still alive at the time, and believed in magic.) It’s not an activity I actively seek out, much, and if asked (and I’m not asked, that often) I more often decline.

Q And who do you consider to be superior essayists, living or dead, worth reading?
A Orwell comes to mind, of course, but those are classic formal essays. The various parts of something like Iain Sinclair’s Lights Out For The Territory *behave* in some ways like essays, and are brilliant, but do various un-essaylike things as well.”

So welcome to South East London’s biggest pile of unread books, Lights Out For The Territory.

* And in a recursive manner, this is a recommendation that also recommends itself, for like all new Gibson books, I will read Zero History.

Added to the wishlist: The Future History of the Arctic

Speaking of the Geiger counter, here’s Tyler Cowen recommending and quoting from The Future History of the Arctic:

“Svalbard is an integral part of the kingdom of Norway — there are reminders that the archipelago is both something more and something less than that. Russians and Ukrainians live here, some in Longyearbyen, though most are at the Russian settlement at Barentsburg. The girls at the supermarket checkout counter speak Thai. Somewhere in town is an Iranian who came here six years ago and, under the terms of the Spitsbergen Treaty, was able to settle here. If he were to return south to the Norwegian mainland, he would almost definitely be forced to leave the country, his asylum claims having been refused.”

Added to the wishlist: The Age of Absurdity

Reviewed in The Guardian:

“Foley is not one for the “fatuous breeziness” of bullet-pointed self-help manuals or the nostrums of the new science of wellbeing… Here are Christ and Buddha, Marx and Freud, Spinoza and Nietzsche, Joyce and Proust, mixing it with brain experts Pinker and Rose. It’s not so much a trawl of great minds as proof that they think alike when it comes to human frailty – notably the way our base desires hoodwink our higher-reasoning selves and drive us mad with one unmet expectation after the other.

Modern life, Foley argues, has made things worse, deepening our cravings and at the same time heightening our delusions of importance as individuals. Not only are we rabid in our unsustainable demands for gourmet living, eternal youth, fame and a hundred varieties of sex, but we have been encouraged – by a post-1970s “rights” culture that has created a zero-tolerance sensitivity to any perceived inequality, slight or grievance – into believing that to want something is to deserve it.”

Welcome to The Age of Absurdity – as an excellent review on Amazon puts it: “But then, you’ve watched Monty Python, so you already knew that.”

Added to the wishlist: The Lost Books of the Odyssey

Previewed in the New York Times:
The Lost Books of the Odyssey purports to be a compilation of 44 alternate versions of Homer’s epic… In some of the alternate histories Odysseus returns to Ithaca only to find the island abandoned, or Penelope a ghost or married to a man who is “soft, grey and heavy.” In others Achilles is a golem who slaughters Greeks and Trojans alike, while Odysseus marries Helen or kills her, doesn’t make it back home at all, becomes the author of “The Odyssey” or is confined to a sanatorium for a psychiatric evaluation.”
Sounds brilliant – the Rashomon story structure seems to fit the nature of Odysseus’ quest for home and his desire to return to what was lost. The writer, Zacharay Mason, sounds interesting too: he’s “a computer scientist specializing in search recommendation systems and keywords, once worked at Amazon.com.”
via Robin Sloan. Not out in the UK until May.

Added to the wishlist: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

[Book] How could it not be? The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet is the new one from David Mitchell, my favourite living author. It sees Mitchell’s fiction returning to Japan – site of the many of the stories in his first book, Ghostwritten, and a place that helped shape him as a writer:

“In 1799 the young Dutch clerk of the title finds himself one of the few westerners to visit Japan, a closed society that keeps its foreigners confined to a walled island.”

Amazon doesn’t yet have the cover of the book, but preview copies have been doing the rounds, and you can see it here, along with a positive early review from Seth Marko:

“I don’t want to post a full-on review, filled with information that will ruin things for anyone interested, but I did finish reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet last night. Holy shit, what a book. All I will say at this point is this: it does not have the complex, head-exploding machinations of some of Mitchell’s past work (Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas esp.) but it does prove that Mitchell has been no fluke – his burgeoning talent has hit full stride at this point and Autumns showcases his immense ability to write in any genre he chooses and blow your socks off in the process… There are multiple narrators throughout, as is Mitchell’s wont, but it is structurally done in such a subtle way that you hardly notice – you are just swept along in the flow, wondering, as a foreigner like Jacob, how much of the lush, inner world of Japan you will be allowed to glimpse. My god, if this book isn’t the one that earns him that elusive Booker prize…”

Listed in a pretty good 2010 books preview from the Guardian, which also mentions The Cello Suites.

Added to the wishlist: PIXEL!

PIXEL!

[Game] PIXEL!, an Xbox 360 Arcade title, recommended by Jean Snow’s new Game blog:

“The third entry in the ‘Arkedo Series’ of retro inspired games, PIXEL! is a mostly straightforward take on the platforming genre, mixing 8-bit visuals with a current gen sheen. Arkedo still manages to give the game a very modern look, with simple but enjoyable gameplay that harkens back to old-school 2D platformers (with a few little twists). Arkedo is a French independent studio founded by Camille Guermonprez and Aurélien Regard. Releases so far include two other titles in the ‘Arkedo Series’ (the puzzle/platformer JUMP! and the puzzler SWAP!), as well as DS titles Nervous Brickdown and Big Bang Mini.”

Added to the wishlist: The Alchemy of Stone

[Book] via io9’s 20 Best Science Fiction Books of the Decade, The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia:

With a face made of porcelain, a wind-up heart, and a talent for alchemy, Mattie is hardly a typical science fictional robot. While most novels about robots focus on how these humanoid machines are stronger and smarter than humans, Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone explores the vulnerability of mechanical beings who depend on humans for repairs and survival.

I love mechanical robots – automatons – and have done ever since reading Tom Standage’s excellent book on the Mechanical Turk. It’s the basis of the story in my magnificent octopus never-quite-finished novel, The Persistence of Vision.

The i09 list is entertaining reading, too – they’ve given the benefit of the doubt to the so-so Pattern Recognition, but Perdido Street Station certainly deserves its mention.