Wednesday, January 21, 2009

#2 of 2009: Spook Country by William Gibson

Another book needing a dictionary with a plot that’s just a few inches over my head. I “got” it, but there are a few subtle detours in the storytelling I’m sure need a second reading to pick up.

Unlike Pattern Recognition, which deals with a subject that I loathe but am simultaneously fascinated with (advertising), Spook Country delves into a bit of territory that I’m firmly involved in, at least somewhat - GPS technology. As a geocacher, I really got into some of the concepts in this book, especially placing “invisible” art at specific coordinates that require special equipment to view. Other things, like using GPS to track objects around the world, caused the gears in my head to begin working overtime. All of the neat things that could be done with these satellites...

As it is with everything Gibson, there’s no such thing as a single story line. In this book, there are three, the story of the rock star turned journalist, the story of the young, spiritual mafioso and the story of the drug-addicted translator held captive by the supposed government agent. This last story line is where the book’s title comes from, as both the man employing the mafioso and the man holding the translator against his will are current or former intelligence agents.

It was a great read, but like everything of Gibson’s I’ve read, it’s long, arduous, and requires a lot of concentration. I’m glad to have read it, and I’m keeping my copy, but I think I’m going to hold off on any more Gibson until I’ve read some of these “essentials” I’ve been rambling about lately.


On to The House of Leaves. I’m not sure I should be complaining about a book requiring intense concentration before I’ve tackled this. I’m almost breaking out in cold sweats already.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

#1 of 2009: Bangkok 8 by John Burdett

An American Army sergeant in Bangkok is found under a bridge in a luxury car with its handles forced shut, the interior of the vehicle teeming with angry cobras. On the man’s head coils an equally angry python, bound and determined to swallow him whole. Two police officers, devout Buddhists and perhaps the only two non-corrupt cops in the Royal Thai Police Force, have been assigned to tail this man for reasons unknown, and when he slips away for a half hour he winds up dead.

Who killed William Bradley, and why? If you follow the pattern of other crime novels, the pages of this book should be devoted to finding the answers to these two questions.

Set in Bangkok, however, against the backdrop of two teeming, illegal industries, the most important question becomes “Who are all these people, and why do they live the way they do?” Prostitution and drugs abound, intertwined with Buddhist philosophy, as a half-Thai, half-American near-saint of a cop ponders the case and questions both himself and the people around him.

Call me stupid, but I’m still not sure why this is called Bangkok 8. Perhaps as a reference to the Eight-Fold Path of Buddhist scripture, I don’t know [It's a reference to the Royal Thai Police district Sonchai works in. Ignore me, I'm dense. - JB ]. What I do know is that this is one damn fine novel, a crime novel for sure but a bit apart from what classifies as detective fiction. I would probably refer to it as a character study steeped in illegal activity, or a character study because of illegal activity. Burdett’s Thailand seems to be fueled by it, though in a way that makes everyone both culpable and blameless at the same time. It’s all for the better of society, right? The redistribution of Western wealth into the East? And who doesn’t like to have a good time?

When the last page is flipped, two points will have been made. First, there is no black and white in Thailand, only shades of grey. Everyone is corrupt, even if only a little. And the second point?

Everyone is a whore.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Year, New Goal

In 2008 I proved to myself that yes, I really can read fifty books in a year. I can even read more than that, if I push myself. It was a great feeling, but I felt a little let down when I didn’t make it to 75. “Oh, well,” I said. “I can try again next year.” Great idea, right?

Well, I’m not going to do it.

2009 is the Year of Big Books. Those books that I’ve been meaning to read, but keep putting off because of their size or difficulty? The books that I shoved off to the side because I was afraid of slowing down my “completed book count”?

This is the year for them.

I’m setting a goal of twenty books or more, though these books will include the following:

Infinite Jest
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Out (for the second time)
The Broom of the System
White Noise
Cloud Atlas
The House of Leaves
Snow Crash
The Vampire Chronicles Collection 1
Gravity’s Rainbow

Any book I’ve wanted to read that I put off because it would take a week or more to fit into my busy schedule is being read this year. I’m not paying much attention to numbers this time. I have so many different things, easy reads with long page counts and difficult reads with shorter ones, plus anything in between, that I haven’t given an opportunity because I was too busy trying to reach my book number goals.

This is also going to be the Year of Suggestions. Some books people just keep bringing up, mostly Snow Crash and House of Leaves. I bought copies and ended up not reading them immediately, and I’ve been pestered over and over about when I’m going to read them. I’m going to read them now, this year, possibly even before Spring arrives. Who knows.

But this year for sure I’m not reaching for fifty. It was helpful in clearing out my TBR of shorter books, but it’s time to dig in now.

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