Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Near-Miss Books You Might Enjoy

My husband is a great reader, I might say a voracious and omnivorous reader. He reads widely across genre lines and nonfiction. Part of his dowry was 70 cartons of books, so of course we had to build a freestanding library shed to house part of our combined collection. Needless to say, our tastes are not identical. So here are a few books that didn’t work completely for me but did for him. All of them are High Concept, chock full of imagination. You might like them, too.

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Memory of Whiteness. Robinson is a superlative writer, no question about it, and I have enjoyed his other work. This one is set in the far future, when revolutionary breakthroughs in have allowed humans to colonize the entire solar system by creating miniature suns and corresponding dome habitats. The physicist responsible for these transformations also made connections between mathematics and music, and created an all-in-one one-of-a-kind Orchestra. The current Master of the Orchestra and his entourage embark upon a concert tour of the system, and various, increasingly ominous shenanigans ensue. I loved that the folks living on Pluto were crazy about music, everyone played multiple instruments, and the entire planet went nuts about each performance. (One of our characters is a tapir farmer from a world circling Uranus, a member of an amateur music review club who gets sent as a journalist to follow the Orchestra tour.) While brimming with innovation and luscious descriptions of music and its power to define and transport us, I found the long expository passages, such as explanations of the state of relativity theory and its relationship to music, repetitious after a time. My husband loved them.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter opened with everything going for it. I love
parallel Earth stories, and these two authors are masters of their craft. The twist here is that the further you get from “our” Earth, the less the worlds have in common. New frontiers, new pioneers bringing only what they can carry. And something dark and dreadful moving through the outer worlds… The story had me firmly in its page-turning clutches until the not-quite satisfying end. I learned later that it’s the first of series. I’ll likely take a look at subsequent volumes if my public library has them. I do, however, feel a bit piqued by a series opener masquerading as a stand-alone. But not all the time. Sometimes it works just fine for me.  The rest of the book, however, was just grand and my husband enjoyed it, so I chalk this up to individual quirk. The longer the time since I read this book, the better I think of it, so I am inclined to give it another read. Maybe this time, when I already know what happens, I will be able to submerge myself in the journey.

Gospel by Wilton Barnhardt came to me from a friend, who stopped reading it about halfway through. It’s a long book, almost 800 pages, and in hardback, so that made it heavy and somewhat difficult for my arthritic hands to manage. It’s a zesty combination of present-day narrative, quotes from a lost Biblical gospel, and academic-style footnotes and references. The opening, where the existence of the gospel is revealed and the search begins, all amid contentious scholarly discussions, caught me up. Various nefarious cults, also after the gospel, add a nice degree of tension. God interjects comments here and there, some of them hilarious; sometimes the characters listen but at other times they are infuriatingly oblivious. But about 2/3 through, I found myself looking around for something else to read. The shine of the concept had dimmed and there wasn’t enough in the characters or action to hold me. I kept wondering what this chapter or that sequence had to do with The Hunt. My (extremely limited) interest in early Christianity had been exhausted. I thought my husband would enjoy the book, and I was right. It held his attention all the way through, with continued delight in the (accurate) footnotes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment