summer book roundup

I don’t have the energy to do those incredibly long-winded book reviews anymore, and I’m sure you’re all glad of it. Here are some books I read recently:

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynn Truss. Man, is this one terrific book. Let it be noted: I like style guides. I like grammar and punctuation books. Being a writer and, even worse, an ENGLISH MAJOR it kind of comes with the territory. But this book isn’t like those other punctuation books that lists out all the rules for the use of the semicolon. It isn’t even like books like The Well-Tempered Sentence, which uses really funny examples to basically list out all the rules for the use of the semicolon. Nope: this book is a rant. A really great rant, fully of great insults for people (“thickos”) who use grocer’s quotes (“apple’s $1”) and other punctuation abuses. I cackled with glee. It also has a bunch of history stuff that’s actually interesting. There’s a reason this book was a monstrous best-seller. This is a great book for no other reason that it taught me the word “thicko,” which I now feel I must use at least once a day.

Harry Potter and the Half-Dead Prince, by JK Rowling. Er. That’s not quite the title, but close enough. There’ve probably been too many words written on this in the blogworld already, so I’ll just add a two comments: 1. Better than the last book. 2. WAHHHHH.

Jennifer Government, by Max Barry. I had read so much about this satiric novel of capitalism (or “capitalizm” as the book calls it) run amok, and I wanted so much to like it. There are some fun ideas in here — the US owns much of the world (and has recently acquired Australia), people take the names of their companies as surnames, and corporate competition is literally war. But that’s pretty much it for the ideas, the writing is kind of uneven — some scenes are completely terrific, others are hugely boring or eye-rollingly dumb — and I only read the book two weeks ago and I can’t remember much about it at all. There’s one amazingly great scene where the girl hacker character introduces a virus into ExxonMobile’s corporate computer system. That was a great scene. Other than that…eh.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I read this book when it first came out, in 1986, when the notion of a future with a radical far-right theocratic government that enslaves women for breeding purposes didn’t seem all that far-fetched. With Things the way they are, and the path down on which Things seem to be going, it seemed like perhaps it was time to read the book again. This is what-if near-future science fiction that was really defined by its age; in lots of ways it feels kind of dated now. The religious right of this book is the religious right of the Reagan era; the hypocrisy of the evangelist-style leaders in that book reflects the hypocrisy of that time as well. It doesn’t feel as scarily believeable, like a “this could really happen” scenario the way it did the first time I read it; Things may be bad now but they have diverged along a different path of bad. Which is not to say its not a good book; its a very well-written book and the world described in it feels very real and still very frightening. Good book.

Lance Armstrong’s War, by Daniel Coyle. Yeah, I know. I know, I know. Eric bought it and told me it was good, and I was between books, and the Tour was about to start. Actually, this was a good book. It wasn’t the fawning Lance-is-so-terrific-and-did-you-know-he-had-cancer? bio that I expected it to be; Lance wasn’t portrayed all that well, actually. More interesting than the Lance parts, though, were the profiles of the other pro cyclist teammates and competitors that probably make up more than half of the book: Hamilton, Ullrich, Vinokurov, Landis, Ekimov, and so on. There were a lot of stories in here I hadn’t heard before. Interesting stories. It was definitely worth a read if you follow pro cycling, even if you don’t like Lance.

A Place So Foreign and Eight More, by Cory Doctorow. After being dissappointed by Cory’s second novel but since his third wasn’t yet out I read this book instead. Its a collection of his short stories. I think perhaps Cory is best at his short stories. I really loved these, especially “To Market, To Market (the Rebranding of Billy Bailey)” and “Return to Pleasure Island.” Oddly enough although I SHOULD like it given its hacker-l33t-coolness, I’ve never particularly liked “Ownz0red.” It has a good tone and the right language (yup, geeky) but I found the plot, and especially the ending, kind of dissatisfying. Some good quotes, though. I particularly like “A tech writer. Why not just break his goddamned fingers and poke his eyes out?”

The Little Lisper by Daniel P. Friedman and Matthias Felleisen. No really. I reread this book every few years for two reasons. The first is that its probably one of the most unique computer books ever, with a funky question-and-answer format that’s kind of like computer-based-training put down on paper. I read it as a writer just to examine the structure. The second reason is that I always forget how the Y-combinator works and this book has one of the more accessible descriptions of it. Not that I’m ever called on to explain the Y-combinator in, say, the checkout line at Whole Foods, or anything. Obviously I’m not doing any Y-combinating much at all if it keeps leaking out of my head and I have to re-learn it every few years. But its one of those things, like rebuilding cabruretors and making creme anglaise, that I feel studly for knowing how to do. BTW the Little Lisper is kind out out of date these days, having been revised and supplanted by the Little Schemer.

Next up: Olympos, the sequel to Ilium. And then I really will get to the big pile of computer books I have to read. Really.

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