Off-topic chat. Kick back and relax with a whiskey and a cigar as we chew the fat about anything and everything other than games.
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Alex Connolly

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Gutenberg's Gallery - What're You Reading?

by Alex Connolly » Tue Jul 08, 2014 11:44 am

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A simple question, and one to keep rolling as the pages continue to turn. What's being consumed on whatever platform you devour the written word? Guilty pleasures? Earnest addictions? Esteemed collections? Antique oeuvres? Modern musings? All welcome.
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Rampant Bicycle

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Re: Gutenberg's Gallery - What're You Reading?

by Rampant Bicycle » Tue Jul 08, 2014 2:10 pm

I brought home from the library last night:

Roy G. Biv: An exceedingly surprising book about color

A very pretty-looking book about color and the psychological/social implications thereof that I'm interested to explore. The curious can listen to an NPR interview with the author, or try this video for a little snippet.



People interested in color from the natural history POV may instead wish to try Victoria Finlay's Color: A Natural History of the Palette.

Also:

The Lies of Locke Lamora

I'm a sucker for Guile Heroes, so this has been on my book pile of shame for a long time. Con artists par excellence robbing the wealthy of Fantasyland Not-Venice? Sure, sign me up.

Recently completed:

Alison Bechdel's (yes, THAT Alison Bechdel) matched pair of books Fun Home and Are You My Mother?

Yes, these are memoir, and yes, that means they're going to be a bit introspective and navel-gaze-y. For some people that's a problem, for me part of the fun in such works is finding the commonalities in our experience. Memoir is in many ways the experience of an author "working it out" in writing, one way or another, and these are no exception.

These are both very layered pieces also, full of literary references, psychological theory, and of course the adult Bechdel's meditations on her life and those of her parents. A trifle niche, perhaps, but very solid work and worthwhile.

For those who might enjoy a darker spin on the comic/memoir pairing, there is always the very creepy My Friend Dahmer, by a gentleman with the unlikely name of Derf Backderf. What would you do if you learned that one of your high school classmates had gone on to become a serial killer? In Backderf's case, the answer appears to have been, as for Bechdel, "work it out in writing." Sinister and weirdly intriguing.
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Re: Gutenberg's Gallery - What're You Reading?

by Beige » Tue Jul 08, 2014 3:03 pm

I just finished reading PANG: The Wandering Shaolin Monk which is a series of graphic novels I picked up at TCAF. (Also a web comic I guess? http://www.shilongpang.com/ ). Anyway, it's awesome. Shaolin-ey, monk-ey. Full of strange little details about historical China despite being written and illustrated by a bunch of Mexicans as far as I can tell. The art is great, but dense in terms of text... takes a little acclimation to get used to.

Outside of that, I'm trying to crash through "Use of Weapons" (one of the culture novels) by Ian M. Banks. I've been told that it's my kind of jam, though I'm admittedly having a difficult time getting rolling with it.

Consider Phleabas just grabbed me straight out of the gate (Horza is the Solid Snake of Sci-Fi) but this one is taking some extra effort.
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Re: Gutenberg's Gallery - What're You Reading?

by RocGaude » Tue Jul 08, 2014 3:27 pm

Working through The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This one's a Feenwager favorite series and I can see why. An interesting take on a story that's part HBO Harry Potter and part Inception.

After that's wrapped up, I'm finally tackling The Dark Tower series. God have mercy.
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Alex Connolly

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Re: Gutenberg's Gallery - What're You Reading?

by Alex Connolly » Tue Jul 08, 2014 9:34 pm

Mark, for whatever reason, I simply couldn't get my engine to turn over with Banks' revered series. It was...I dunno. I'm usually very accommodating with my sci-fi, too. Maybe it was the disconnect between massive adulation and the reality of my dissatisfaction. What a hipster bell-end I am.

---

Currently revisiting a few old books, all webbed together in the strata. Going back through Wilbur Smith's When The Lion Feeds trilogy via audiobook, and it's luxurious. Sure, of their era and he certainly has a thing for the Hemmingway hero, but there's such adventure and scope with the man's prose. It's not particularly complex, and Smith's poetic descriptions of Victorian Africa are thankfully economic, but it has it where it counts.

The descriptions of South Africa's gold fields led me back to Geoffrey Blainey's The Peaks of Lyell, which is my most treasured of industrial histories. Blainey hasn't been beaten in the kind of historic focus I like; rather than the big sweep and large personalities of yesteryear, he writes from the ground up. The pioneers that time has thus forgotten, the dray teams who cut their way up through dense forests to erect mills in the wilderness. The small-time speculators in a silver rush. Those who, on the backs of their own fortunes made elsewhere, built the infrastructure that formed the stepping stones of development, but disappeared into obscurity and pauperism on account of failure of returns. The people and the hardships, the triumphs and the despair.

And in turn, I've started Lloyd Robson's A Short History of Tasmania. The longer I live overseas, the more engrossing colonial history of the homeland becomes. We'll see how this goes. I've usually pursued much more focused topics, rather than an all-encompassing telling of history, but it's doing justice thus far.
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Re: Gutenberg's Gallery - What're You Reading?

by Tolkoto » Wed Jul 09, 2014 3:14 am

The last thing I read was Console Wars, which was incredible for a Genesis-era Sega fanboy like me. I think it's pretty much required reading for any console gamer.

Before that, I read Robin Hobb's Farseerer trilogy, which I liked, but progressively thought less of as it went along. My quest for a fantasy series that'll I'll absolutely love continues.
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Calin Kim

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Re: Gutenberg's Gallery - What're You Reading?

by Calin Kim » Wed Jul 09, 2014 6:10 am

I was so disciplined just a month ago. If this thread had come up a month ago I could have told you all about the new Kafka translations and how the new version of Amerika is wonderful and removes all the weird Judeo-Christian allusions and brings back Kafka's trademark humor. I could have talked about how finally reading through a good translation of his diaries has opened my eyes to how much one of my favorite writers was influenced by his friends, and the notion of Kafka as a creepy loner is rooted in shitty teachers who don't know what they're talking about. If you only teach "The Metamorphosis," (and have only read it) of course you're going to have the wrong impression. There's a reason he hid away so much of his work. Kafka was funny. He liked telling stories to his friends while they were out at the pub together. Picture this, you're hanging out with your writer friend Franz, and after knocking back a few ales he unloads "The Hunger Artist" on you. You listen to his every word about a society that devalues true artistry and suffering for ones art. How the true artists who push boundaries are seen as outsiders and the sellouts who are out to make a quick buck get revered as geniuses. As you realize you're also getting an allegory about the artist's place in society you notice he has a huge grin on his face the entire time and takes periodic breaks to smile even bigger and laugh. You finish your drink and order another.

Oh, sure, a month ago you would have gotten Kafka hour with Calin.

But, that was sooooo last month.

So now you're stuck with Calin the omnivorous who can't quite settle on any one thing and has instead been reading everything. The Kafka train keeps a rolling with a new translation of The Castle, but I've read it a couple of times before. I don't have as much to say about it.

Of recent note, however, I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire again. I read Game of Thrones back in 2009 or 2010, and I liked it well enough. It was alright. This time, though, after waiting each week for a new episode I'm finding it more rewarding. The first time I read the book I was drawing house maps and lineages and stuff, and it felt like a lot of work. Now that I'm familiar with familial relationship and characters through the show I can just sit back and let the story unfold. It feels less like unrewarding homework and more like leisure time. I have been picking this one up a lot when it's late and am having trouble sleeping. It's perfect for just reading a chapter or two before I try to sleep.

I also picked up The Professor and the Madman, which is a story about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, a subject that is near and dear to my heart as a lit person and a wannabe linguist. Towards the end of my grad studies I fell in love with linguistics and ended up taking all of my English elective courses in that department. During an intro to grad linguistics class I had one of those epiphany moments in which I realized that everything I had learned about grammar and structure was either wrong or mean-spirited garbage. Needless to say, I was hooked, and I did everything I could to learn about English linguistics. (It also helps that I discovered U Penn's Language Log around the same time: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/.) Anyway, the OED is an amazing text for anyone who is interested in the development of English from a historical perspective and isn't just looking for poorly chosen synonyms to throw into a paper that your teacher will later remark is incoherent. I know. I've read papers by these students...

The history of the OED, however, was not something I was familiar with and to learn that it's a sordid tale of murder and insanity is something I'm interested in seeing play out. I'm not far in the book (just about 20 pages), but I can't wait to get to the parts where the OED is being worked on.

Now, that said, the writing is not my cup of tea. I feel as if it inhabits this weird space between well-researched facts and posturing narrative. For example, this is a sentence I read this evening that put me in a bit of a bad mood: "Whether the Merretts missed the fields and the cider and the skylarks, or whether they imagined that that ideal had ever truly been the world they had left, we shall never know." Okay, so you're writing non-fiction why? This sentence is here because why? If you can get past some of the more cringeworthy moments (or if you straight up don't find that type of thing cringeworthy) then I would recommend it as a curiosity. If nothing else, it should make for entertaining talk at a dinner party. If you're the type of person who interacts with other humans. I'm not. All of my friends just want to see me drink a lot and go to metal shows.
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Re: Gutenberg's Gallery - What're You Reading?

by Bowley » Sun Sep 14, 2014 12:07 am

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The current Ebola outbreak re-sparked a morbid interest in deadly infectious diseases in me, so I finally sat down and read 90's nightmare fuel classic, The Hotzone, which is a shocking book in a lot of ways. It's a page turner, for sure, and it's disgusting, sad and fascinating, also it doesn't foster 100% faith in the US government's ability to stop any kind of pandemic at all (We got lucky with Ebola Reston - look it up).

Not nearly satisfied with the horrid reality of just one deadly virus, I took an Amazon reviewer's advice and jumped straight into Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. Written and published recently by David Quammen, this is an up to date tome of infectious diseases, namely ones that "spillover" from other animal species, called, "zoonoses". It's much less sensational, much more rational and scientific, while still being interesting, and, at times, humorous. It moves from SARS to Ebola to bacteria like Lyme disease (which I've had), and to infectious agents you've never even heard about, as well as the people who study them. It's concerned with with the WHY and HOW, not as much the damage the diseases can do themselves, although that is covered too.

I'm only halfway through, but I have a much better appreciation for the world of emerging infectious agents, their remarkable tenacity, and ability to evolve and survive, and the crazy circumstances it takes to jump from one reservoir species into a new one, like humans. Often, as you would expect, the level and depth of these outbreaks and epidemics can be attributed to our own activities and ignorance of the world around us.

David Quammen also takes The Hotzone down a peg, as a shocking piece of writing that was important to drawing attention to the field and the growing problem, but ultimately it's descriptions of how Ebola destroys the body are sensationalist and overblown. Yeah, it's a bad virus that'll mess you up, but it doesn't exactly puree your insides either.

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