Tuesday, April 3, 2018

March 2018 consumption diary


(A heavy weighting to the old timers this month, thanks to road-tripping to the Taranaki in an old-timey mood)


Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow by Noah Yuval Harari (non-fiction, audiobook)

I've recommended this book to three people since I read it, each for different reasons (the link between the science behind our soullessness, animal suffering and veganism; the future of automation/an algorithm for everything and what it means for education; how it uses Kahneman and Fredickson's peak-end rule to explain how unreliable a narrator we are of our own lives) - but each time with the caveat that the book is confusingly structured.

I get that it's a bunch of conjectures that spring from the central premise (homo sapiens has done a good job of minimising the impact of famine, plague and war and is able to focus elsewhere for the first time in forever), so it was never going to be the most cohesive thing, but it has a couple of (long) false starts and, while it builds well in each chapter, the book itself never seems to culminate. It's definitely more rumination than fulmination.

Still, it was the right mix of a secondary explainer of the work of others and more adventurous, more challenging thinking.

Good stuff.

Sex Object: a memoir by Jessica Valenti (non-fiction, audiobook)

The pat thing to say here might be: this is the kind of book all fathers of daughter should read if they want to understand the world their daughter is/will be part of. But I think fathers of daughters are the low-hanging fruit when it comes to activating their empathy for females. The challenge is to get to the budding dudebros a decade before they procreate, just before they leave their first half-cocked abusive message on social media.

But then again, isn't it wrong to talk about this books value in terms of what it can do for (or "to") men? Yes. Yes it is.

It's clearly a bit of a tangle for me to talk about, briefly. But the book is its own tangle.

Yep, here comes that word again: structure. I felt off-balance throughout, the way the present and a variety of past eras intermingled, and how the same incidents (eg Valenti, as a schoolgirl, finding cum in her backpocket after a subway ride in a crammed car) are referred to multiple times, which seems to lessen their impact.

Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young

I feel like I've been on a run of these books the last 12 months or so. Trees, cephalopods, Noah Yuval Harari's long excursion into the immorality of factory farming, and now this. Young doesn't just talk about cows, there's sheep and chickens in her book too. And it's a fine addition to this genre which I call: Make Craig go vegan.

But I am incredibly lazy and am able to shoulder incredible amounts of guilt and shame if it means my comfortable life can be maintained.

I'm not sure if this genre needs to throw more books at me, or if the books I've read just need to sit with me a little longer...

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson (short stories, audiobook)

Like everyone whose ever done a creative writing course (it seems), Jesus' Son when I first encountered it, and still do I guess. I loved Train Dreams, too, which felt more like a long story than a short novel. I wasn't so fussed about his 2000 campus novel, The Name of the World (also short for a novel: only 144 pgs), and didn't finish his biggie, Tree of Smoke (pace Denis).
I loved

Johnson, of course, died last year, and Largesse was published posthumously in January this year. The title story originally appeared in the New Yorker in 2014 and you can read it there. Seriously, read it now. It's the absolute stand-out of the collection. Somewhere between Train Dreams and Jesus' Son. There are only four other stories in the book (three previously unpublished) and though nothing else quite reaches the same heights as the opening, it's required reading for everyone who had Denis Johnson phase and needs some reacquainting.

Saga Land by Kári Gíslason and Richard Fidler (non-fiction, audiobook)

Gislason and Fidlar blend travelogue, contemporary family saga, retelling of medieval Icelandic sagas and a biography of sorts of Snorri Sturluson.

I was into Norse mythology in a big way in my early teens and was therefore familar with Snorri as the author of the Prose Edda, but didn't know that much about the sagas of more contemporary (for the time) Icelanders. Saga Land provided a good background and a taster of the sagas themselves, but I don't feel sated in the least. MORE SAGAS PLEASE!!

But all of the components of the book held my interest, and were stitched together well. The ending of the contemporary story (which also served to conclude the book) was missing the bloody end of the sagas, but again, that's non-fiction for you.


Midnight Special
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Derren Brown's The Push
In Search of Fellini
Atlanta Season 1

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