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Book-book, book-book

(The above is taken from a joke my Dadini told me as a kid — I mean, when I was a kid, not him, since obviously I wasn’t around when he was a kid — involving a chicken borrowing books at a library on behalf of a frog. I have been walking around the house saying it.)

I finished some books recently and had been planning to talk a bit about them, but I haven’t been sure what to say, so I’m going to talk more generally about reading and books and casually interweave some comments about the books in question.

There are so many books to read it blows my mind. Even when I prune away all the books I will never want to read (I’m not listing any titles because I don’t want to foster genre-ism), even when I discount all the worthy-but-dull books I’ll never open, and even when I reluctantly admit the many books I would like to read but won’t get around to, my to-read and to-reread lists are substantial. And geographically diverse: there’s a bedside reading stack; a book-in-progress in the kitchen (handy when stirring! ideal when waiting for something to reach a simmer! wherever good times are had!); and usually a couple beside the couch. Then there’s bookshelf — theoretically, only a select few graduate to those lofty shelves of permanent possession — and the two satellite reading piles: the on-top-of-the-study-drawers pile and the pile on my desk at work. I read fast, but there’s still a lotta books to get through. Occasionally I feel a bit overwhelmed and worry I have too many — but then I think “fuck it, I like reading”. This is liberating and empowering, even though I’m only arguing with myself.

I finished Wade Rowland’s “Ockham’s Razor” and it left me, well, a bit lukewarm. I may be either too daft to appreciate what Rowland was up to in this travelogue/history/religion/philosophy book, or it may be that I was put offside by what felt like an anti-science vibe. When I reached the end, I felt a bit embarrassed because I didn’t feel like I really got the point. It wasn’t a bad book, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

So I hastened on to Paul Graham’s Hackers and Painters, a series of essays about life, art and computing. I really like Graham’s writing style: he writes clearly and with a clean, strong forward momentum that carries you along his ideas. I got to wondering why I like some books and not others. Rowland’s book discussed some interesting themes and historical stuff that I enjoyed, but at the end of it I felt like it was a mid-life crisis masquerading as a philosophy text. Upper-middle-class Canadian lecturer takes his artist/photographer wife, his model daughter and his student son to Europe and they tour around France while he engages his children (interestingly, almost never his wife) in Socratic dialogue to teach them about some of the major science versus religion debates that took place during history. I don’t really like Socratic dialogue. I also wonder if the author is a huge pain in the arse to travel with if he insists on recording every conversation in minute detail for the purposes of later em-book-ening.

Each essay in Graham’s Hackers and Painters was tight and to the point, and I felt less like I was being taught and more like I was listening to someone’s ideas: the author was excited by what they’d discovered and wanted to share — but there wasn’t a sense of preaching, which I sort of felt while reading Rowland (probably due to the Socratic dialogue thing).

From the long-term to-read list, I bowled over The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which has been nagging at me for a long time. The second in the Narnia series and probably the most famous. It’s a really good book and I loved it as a kid, but reading it as an adult, I kept thinking “Jesus story, Jesus story, Jesus story”, which a big chunk of it is. Anyway, I’ve pushed on to The Horse and his Boy, the third in the Narnia series. Someday I’ll get through all seven — I was given the boxed set as a gift, so I feel like I have to.

Speaking of books, I’m also on the other end of the pen: it’s NaNoWriMo time! I jumped in with both feet and a packed lunch, but I’m not sure what it’s doing for me. In days leading up to it, I was writing heaps of short stuff and NaNo feels like an intrusion. I’m impatient to finish the NaNo novel so I can get back to the other stuff. I’m writing at a cracking pace to rack up the word count, and if your only metric is the number of unique words you’ve strung together, then I’m on fire. I’m resorting to cheap tricks like way too many adverbs, and lots (LOTS) of “he grumbled”; “she moaned”; “they whimpered”, and characters with double-barrelled names. There’s a cohesive plot thread running through it, but when I’m done, I’ll probably rewrite the whole thing as the extended short story it is. Having said all that, I like NaNo. It’s fun: it’s play, it’s flexing your fingers, clearing out the brain dust, and, as every year, it’s a reminder of what I can do when I do shit (deep). While I know 50K isn’t really novel-length, it’s a pretty impressive word count for a month’s work and it’s very exciting to remind myself that I can reach that if I show a bit of oomphalaboomph.

Well, it’s time for me to put in a bit of that oomphalaboomph and get to the writing of the NaNo for the day.

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