Sometimes I wonder if updating a website is healthy. I mean, here I am, on the interwebs again, dicking around with stuff rather than making more paintings. At the minute, I’ve been doing these paintings of the bookshelves in my house, because it’s cold and miserable outside.
Lots of indoor pursuits! Maybe next year I’ll learn gin rummy and hang out with old people.
Blech! I hate this part of the year, which is dark and cold and horrifically soul-rendingly boring. As ever, Christmas encouraged me to move away from all my carefully crafted routines, and eat lots of cake in front of the TV.
Then, just as I’m getting the hang of 2012, I finished my notebook. Rather than pick up another one I’ve been doodling on loose bits of paper, such as these watercolour postcards. Here, I’ve done an ink sketch of some of my Christmas haul, which has ended up piled up on the desk at the end of bed.
Next week I shall be on the road, so updates will probably be even more sparse than usual. But I shall probably be looking at more interesting things, and I’m determined to do some sketching out there, so you’re saved – SAVED! – from me drawing more piles of books. In all fairness though, I am going to retrieve about a hundred books, so maybe it’s more of a temporary reprieve.
I have read the novel Anathem at least once a year since it came out in 2008. It’s 928 pages in length, or just over 31 hours if you listen to the audiobook, which is not an insignificant investment of time in whatever form you choose.
Neal Stephenson is an important author for me. I have an ancient copy of Snow Crash, which I remember tracking down as an import in ’92 or ’93. I had heard it was like William Gibson, but it wasn’t; it was better. It was better in every way. And, while I didn’t become an excellent skateboarder after reading that book (no matter how much I tried) it did give me an introduction into certain areas of thought.
I wasn’t the only one: Second Life is an attempt to makes some parts of Snow Crash real, and the use of the word “Avatar” to describe your character in a computer game also comes from it’s usage in this book. But, as influential and as ground-breaking as Snow Crash was, it’s Anathem that I prefer.
One of the criticisms levelled at Snow Crash is that it’s characters choose knowledge over hope; the fictional world within Anathem has institutionalised that choice. The main character is a young mathematician who lives in a sort of monastery-like institution. In the fictional world of Anathem (an alternate Earth called “Arbre”), these institutions are where all the smart people go, confining themselves to a life without consumer electronics and media saturation for periods of one, ten, or a hundred years.
Outside the walls of the institutions civilisations rise and fall, and a sort of lifestyle pretty much like ours takes place. Technologically, they are a bit more advanced, but Stephenson skewers religious pomposity and the mindless indulgence of contemporary society when he exposes his mathematical monks to a wider world.
I’ve looked at the reviews online for this book, and a common refrain in them is that readers say something like “I read the first 100-200 pages of the book and wasn’t into it, but then I started getting into it and I really liked it” to which I might say, “if you read the rest of the nearly-1000 page book, then I’m glad you liked it for the last 800 pages”. But in a way, that is the point of the book; it is not a passing concern.
Whereas other, more popular books do wrap up their plot lines in the same kind of word-count as Anathem’s first 200 pages, Stephenson is challenging the reader to become more literate – and numerate. What seem like digressions into explaining the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics prove to be important infodumps for later. It’s a mark of Stephenson’s growing skill that sharing his hard-earned insights into some of the more far-fetched worlds of mathematics don’t read as didactic mouths spouting off, but simply as human interaction.
I’ll admit, this book isn’t for some people. On the other hand, the fact that it isn’t for everybody is one of the things that make it special – not everybody wants to read a book about nerdy mathematician-monks saving the world. At its heart, this book is a sci-fi book, but it’s also a book about growing up, about duty, about home, and about loss. That’s why I keep re-reading it, and why I’ll probably read it again next year.
That is, if I can wait that long.
Too lazy to update with, like, uh, actual words.
A few years ago I had a girlfriend who I was very fond of, and as we parted for Christmas we exchanged reading matter. I gave her a copy of Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut’s most life-affirming book. In return, she gave me a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s depressing-as-fuck Wise Blood.
A few weeks later, the relationship would come to a crushing end – but at least I didn’t have to read any Flannery O’Connor.
Answer: the opportunity to make a catalogue of your books and then graph the costs of them! I know I’ve done this before, but it never fails to make me happy! Of course, this graph doesn’t show all my books – I’m still packing them, a process which takes slightly longer when you decide to scan all of them into Delicious Library. But hey, I gots me a graph.
(Click above image to see full-sized chart!)
Addendum: It seems that Confederacy of Dunces is now worth £40 – I’m not sure if that’s quite the edition I’ve got, but here’s my review of that novel.
I wrote a semi-review of this book over on Flickr, because I stuffed it into the frame of a friends bike and I know he likes Flickr. I guess he’ll see it in a few days time, and then work out where the book comes from.
(Gosh, I know, I don’t post anything for ages and then I’m all about the Flickr. It’s terrible, huh?)