I’ve been in a reading slump lately. And by lately, I mean the second half of this year. So since July, I can’t remember reading anything really good. I still have several books to finish. One of those books is the last story in Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy about the writer who recalls his childhood friend and finds out that this childhood friend was a writer too. The writing was so good, I did not want to just slurp everything up, so I decided to set it aside and finish it sometime soon. Orhan Pamuk’s Snow I grappled with since last year. I’ve been on the losing end of my struggle with it. Adding to the reasons not to finish the book is the fact that the bookmark slid out when I picked the book one time, so I can’t recall where I am in the text. And I don’t really want to re-read more of it. I reason, it’s okay not to finish books. I still have yet to finish Bolaño’s 2666 which I started to read about three years ago. I am still at that part about the literary scholars. Their relationship and interactions with each other is analyzed scrupulously by Bolaño. Their fascination with their subject, the reclusive writer Archimboldi, is interesting, and a big reason why I got anywhere at all with the text. This was an author they have written so much about, discussed a lot about, and yet they have not ever seen.
I like genre literature. Science fiction and horror especially. So I thought I should begin another book search for things to read with these genres in mind. I like doing this book search thing. This isn’t an actual organized process so much as a scramble-click-anything-interesting-you-find-read-all-the-reviews-about-it, kind of thing. And believe it or don’t, it actually yields some interesting finds. One of these finds is the short novel Equations of Life by Simon Morden. It’s about this tough, foul-mouthed whiz kid named Samuil Petrovich. In these kinds of literature, world-building comes first, characterization second, at least that’s what I think. Petrovich isn’t that likeable a character, but he fits in the world he moves in. He is a survivor. Not only does he struggle with the outside world, he also has some major health problems. In this future world, a Great Calamity of the nuclear variety has occurred decades before, and humanity and society has had to adapt to it. Given that, there did occur technological progress, but as the cyberpunk cliché goes, it’s ‘high-tech and low-life.’ The low-lives are the main characters of the book. Even the supposed harbinger of law and order, the police detective Chain is a bit shady, but overall he’s a solid Lawful Neutral. The whole plot is put into motion when Petrovich, out of some compulsion to do something good, rescues the daughter of a yakuza boss from a kidnapping. From there, things move fast. This is a short, fast-paced novel set in a dystopic city.
Another sci-fi novel picked-up through this haphazard methodology of mine is Harmony by someone named Project Itoh. Like Equations of Life, it is set in a future dystopia only this time, instead of some grimy, pollution-filled city, the story starts in an uber-clean and organized and generally very pleasant place to live in Japan. Again, there is the Great Calamity that occurred decades before. This was a nuclear conflict which resulted in a dark age of some sort. Only through the use of medical nanotechnology and the rise of a world medical organization with its bureaucratic philosophy called ‘lifeism’ were they able to salvage and ultimately improve upon what remained of the world. The problem is, as the main character complains, this world is stifling, and boring and conformist in a way never before imagined. I found the main character a bit annoying. I am just going to copy-paste my comment about it on reddit here:
… It’s a sci-fi where humanity has progressed to a level where they can keep people healthy and long-lived. However for this, they have sacrificed privacy and passion/high emotions. I liked the world-building, how some details are mentioned as the story moves along in order for the reader to have a picture of the Big Catastrophe that happened before, and of the cultures that adapted/remained. I liked how idea-driven it is. I liked the use of ‘choruses’ like in Palahniuk’s ‘Fight Club.’ There’s also the figure of the anti-civilization prophet, which is another similarity. What I did have trouble though is sympathizing with the main character. Her rebellion is childish/selfish? She relishes her ‘outsider’ status and sees everyone ‘in the system’ as beneath her. The book is short, and I’m almost done with it.
Another interesting book I am in the middle of reading is Eduardo Galeano’s Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History. It is a collection of interesting anecdotes about the world and Latin America. In one or two paragraphs, Galeano tells of something interesting that happened on that particular day. You’ll learn for example that on January 17, 1918, during the Russian Revolution, Anatoly Lunacharsky presided over a trial judging God. The prosecution said that God has committed numerous crimes against humanity. The defense argued God cannot stand to trial because he is mentally ill. In the end, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. They fired a few machine-gun rounds to the sky. Galeano’s historical coverage is vast and wide. It has its serious moments, but mostly it’s light, fun, whimsical reading.
So I guess I am dealing with this reading slump somewhat alright. Goodreads is this website that catalogs all the books you’ve read and currently reading. You can write reviews and comments. It has a feature where you can set a goal, a number of books, to read for the year. I haven’t visited the site for weeks, and my account says I have only read thirteen books so far in my stated goal of forty-eight. Here is my reasoning: we have to get out of this mentality of acquisitiveness. Books are meant to be enjoyed, and reading a lot of books isn’t a good measure of being a reader. Instead of being a heavy reader, maybe one should be more of a deep kind of reader. Also, it’s hard to find books I really want to read. I am very picky with books. Once my interest starts to flag, I often just put down the book, and what do you know, it has magically gained several kilograms.