1.12.2004

One Book?

In non-fiction, that's easy: S.T. Joshi's The Modern Weird Tale--analyses of many contemporary horror writers. There was also a good book on anthopology in SF from McFarland Press--Human Prehistory in Fiction by Charles De Paolo--which looks like it'd be the foundation of a fun, multidisciplinary class.

Like Bob, I'm not sure if I could pick one fiction book, especially since I read mostly shorts. I spend much of my reading time catching up on all the people I should have read before I was born: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoi, Sheckley.... It was interesting to (re)read Sheckley and know that he was the guy who'd written that story and inspired that movie, both directly and indirectly. This and Dick movies made me wonder if the public is hungry for this kind of writing.

I just finished The Spanish Prisoner, a movie written by David Mamet. Roger Ebert pointed out this was much like Hitchcock, and I agree, having just watched North by Northwest, with much excitement a few months back. I am puzzled how people could predict one man's behavior (or whether the costs of such a venture and keeping it quiet would be spent more efficiently, otherwise), but I loved watching it again to see how it fooled me so well the first time through. This is one of the rare movies I'd be willing to own.

But back to fiction, I started Empire Falls before 2003, so does that count? It finished well, making me wonder if one of the better ways to end a novel is work toward a plot-oriented finish to avoid the awkwardness of character-oriented endings that go flat. (By the way, the main character does realize his judgmental attitude by the end as I'd hoped.)

John Updike, on the other hand, did a fairly good job of maintaining character interest in a character-oriented ending in his Rabbit Is Rich, which may have also been my favorite novel of the year. Updike's main strength is the attempt to characterize a country's attitude about the time in which he writes. Here he wrote about the oil crisis and hostage period of the late seventies(?). In Rabbit Redux, he did the Vietnam War era. Walking down the halls of the medical school with pictures of graduating doctors, you can see there's a sharp contrast in hairstyles between '68 and '69. Every other pair of years usually melts between--except a few of the WWII years when most of the men wore uniforms.

Another novel I've just gotten round to is Snow Crash, which I started before Empire Falls. Snow Crash actually has more floating around in it than the book I abandoned it for: religion, language, and the transferrence of information as a virus. We'll have to see how it ends before I judge.

But I do agree, Jonathan, that you don't need a degree to talk about books and many a reader and writer get along fine without it, although a little history couldn't hurt to put some aspects into context. For instance, I'd forgotten about Jung who was probably more influential than Freud on the Surrealist movement, dealing in the unconscious territories. It's interesting to see the connections between various movements in order to see where and why we are where we are and where we might be going.

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