Friday, February 03, 2006

A month's worth of reading

Well, the next semester is almost upon us -- classes start on the 7th and with that my responsibilities as TA begin [actually, they've already begun; we've already written the first problem set]. The last few weeks have been mostly marked by reading. To wit, I have devoured the following:

- "Birds Without Wings": Another Louis de Bernieres tragicomedy, more tragic than comedic. Not quite as entertaining as the triad that begins with "The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts" but definitely larger in scope.
- "Dreams from My Father": This didn't do much for me, I must admit.
- "The Great Influenza": A well-written, if sometimes rather repetitive, account of the 1918 flu. What makes this more than just a long-winded version of "Lots of people died from the flu" is the account the book gives of all the social and cultural factors that influenced the course of the flu: the First World War, the recent emergence of science-based medicine, the state of [biological] science in general, Wilson's decision to devote all American resources single-mindedly to the war etc. The book even has an interesting thesis that indirectly pins World War II on the 1918 flu.
- "Anansi Boys": More gods-walking-among-us fare from Neil Gaiman, this time based on Ananse, a character I heard/read lots of stories about growing up in Ghana. An easier read than "American Gods", I thought.
- "Woken Furies": A good conclusion [maybe ?] to Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels. Less predicated on Takeshi being faster/smarter/stronger than everybody else and much more "internal", so to speak.
- "Market Forces": Capitalism taken to the extreme, plus legalized road rage. Entertaining, but the ending left me a bit flat.
- "The Algebraist": More Iain Banks goodness, with the usual Banks ending -- the story is [ostensibly] over, but you can sense that a new interesting tale is being born and so you wonder what happened to the characters next.
- "The Republican War on Science": The title pretty much says it all and the book makes a convincing case for it [on the off chance that anybody is seriously still in denial about the issue].
- "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal": Very funny satirical account of the first thirty years of Jesus' life. Kind of like "The Satanic Verses" [or recent cartoons], minus the accompanying fatwa and insanity.
- "Fluke": Another comedy by the author of "Lamb", but not quite as funny.
- "Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy": Viewed in a disinterested way, a very interesting handbook of how one party has managed to ignore the pressure to remain close to the center and instead moved extremely far to one end of the spectrum, without having an overwhelming majority anywhere. From a less detached perspective [eg you think the leaders of said party are bunch of scumbuckets], well, it's just plain scary and somewhat disheartening.
- "Superman: Red Son": What if Superman's rocket had landed in the Soviet Union instead of the middle of America ?
- "Marvel 1602": The X-men set in, well, 1602, period costumes and all. Nicely done.
- "Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again": A 60-year old Batman once again comes back and cleans house, putting the hurt on Superman [who just isn't very bright, despite being "super" in all other respects -- if he'd stayed on Krypton, would he have been considered a bit slow ?]

... and several hundred pages worth of scientific papers as I try to nail down my thesis project.

Somehow, I suspect I'll be doing less pleasure reading for the forseeable future.


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