Summer Reading

Friday, September 4, 2009 – 9:33 PM

A tent and a huge pile of books. It could be worse. It’s summer. I travel a bit more for work and take vacation. Both of which means there’s more time to be found for reading.

I spent a bunch of time sitting in a tent below the north face of Mount Tiedeman waiting for things to cool down and the huge blocks of ice and rocks to stop falling down it so we could climb up. It didn’t and after I’d read everything in the tent—except for a series of short stories by Arthur C. Clarke—we went home.

Here are a couple of things I’ve enjoyed this summer…

World War Z – Max Brooks

It wasn’t until the third recommendation that I actually thought this might be worth reading. In general I’m not a big fan of zombies and the like, Left 4 Dead with its interactive zombies is pretty much were I usually loose interest.

Turns out that World War Z is really a series of social commentaries. What happens to society when the world goes to hell? What happens when the technology we all rely on is no longer there? Like the Cloud Atlas it pays homage to a number of genres and gives perspectives from different societies and cultures. Far more than you’d expect from your typical George Romero gore fest.

My favorite is the tale of a downed pilot deep in zombie country in the swamps of Louisiana. It reads like something out of Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam classic The Things They Carried . Like O’Brian’s stories what matters isn’t whether the story is true but that you care if it is or isn’t. If you’re going to read one book about zombies in your entire life… this is it.

V for Vendetta – Alan Moore & David Lloyd

One of the comics than turned comics on on their head. Originally published in Warrior magazine, long before Moore wrote the Watchmen. Like a lot of things that came out of Britain in the 80’s its also a social commentary on Thatcher’s regime.

In some ways V doesn’t seem as dated as the Watchmen. Many of the things which made the Watchmen so significant have been repeated across many other super hero stories in the past twenty years that its not as fresh as it was. Watchmen took existing themes from comics and turned them on their head whereas V takes a different tack. A post apocalypse Britain in the grip of a totalitarian regime. Which, if you were living in Thatcher’s Britain in the 80s—Greenham Common, the miners strikes and Falklands war—doesn’t seem that much of a stretch.

V is quirky, full of lots of oblique references and quotations. So much so it probably deserves a second read when summer is done.

Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

You know you’re onto a good thing when its indescribable. Cloud Atlas feels like half a dozen novels rolled into one. The story spans many centuries and continents but with often tangential connections between them. Characters from one story, or their possessions, appear years later in another story.

I’m currently reading Mitchell’s first novel, Ghostwritten , which certainly starts out very strong, and if you look carefully features some of the same characters as the Cloud Atlas. In some ways it uses the same tricks but laid over a different set of stories and actors and driving towards a different theme.

David Mitchell strikes me as someone who’s going to end up getting a lot of my hard earned cash if he keeps writing like this. Not since Iain Banks (both incarnations) has an author been this successful in parting me from my money.

Well that just about wraps it up for now. Enjoy.

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