21 June, 2019

Two Books I Spent My Spring Reading

I wouldn't have thought it would be hard to best my meager reading list from last season — I just had to read more than three books this spring. It didn't happen. One big obstacle (nearly removed) was polishing and sending off the final pages of my novel-in-stories. How can a guy read when he's wrapping up a nine-year literary project? Then the ever-generous Veronica S. surprised me with another order of some delicious-looking sci-fi, and I had to read a couple of the books she so kindly sent.

One was As She Climbed Across the Table, which vindicated Jonathan Lethem completely after the disappointment that was Amnesia Moon. I'm almost ashamed that I ever found fault. This short novel has just about everything one wants in a Lethem book. It has a fanciful premise: a woman falls in love with a incorporeal area of null space. It has quirky wit (such as when the narrator muses, "Do you think there are bootleg tapes of Muzak outtakes? Maybe they get excited by the groove and really cut loose sometimes. And the producer says, okay, boys, that was swell but now let's try to get this wrapped up so we can all go home. I'll bet that happens all the time."). It has outlandish character names (Carmo Braxia, Georges De Tooth, Gavin Flapcloth). And it has emotional sincerity that never devolves into gross sentimentality. Yes, I was pleased.

Neal Stephenson wrote Zodiac, a so-called eco-thriller, just a few years before Snow Crash, his prescient novel about VR and the future of the Internet. Snow Crash and William Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic were hugely influential on my growth as a geek, so reading pre-Snow Crash Stephenson risked tainting my opinion. Zodiac has action aplenty, accented by Stephenson's sarcastic wit. But it did pale in comparison to Snow Crash. To be fair, Zodiac, a 316-page novel, took me almost all May to read. I clearly couldn't give it my usual close attention. Even so, a couple of editorial gaffes — extra spaces, a misspelled name, and other such relatively minor typos — leapt off the page at me. This is what happens when you're polishing your own manuscript while trying to read for pleasure. I don't recommend it. It's why I read nothing else this spring. There was other demanding business in my life, which, combined with finishing my novel, demanded maximum focus.

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