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comment by rezzeJ
rezzeJ  ·  257 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Gosh darned bookthread time.



    The darkness was looking at me, amorphous, immense, eyeless, devoid of limits.

A fascinating idea that's steeped in atmosphere. Having recently finished The Pale King, this felt as though it was moving at a breakneck pace. I loved it. It got a little bogged down by some excessive exposition in the second half of the book. The narrator essentially gives you a run down of the scientific literature written about a planet and its curious phenomena. Whilst these sections are highly imaginative and well written in and of themselves, it very much feels like the emergency breaks get put on the otherwise fast paced story. Especially as it's just worked into it by the narrator being in a library recounting it all to you.

Still, that's nitpicking. A fantastic book.

The Pale King


    Sometimes what's important is dull. Sometimes it's work. Sometime the important things aren't works of art for your entertainment, X.

Finished this one after starting it around the time of the last book thread. It's presented as a series of vignettes focussed around boredom and everyday tedium. Though there are reoccurring characters and locations, there's not really any overarching plot (linear or otherwise). I didn't enjoy it as much as Infinite Jest. However, it had a much greater emotional impact on me.

Halfway through, a person giving a presentation to new employees at the IRS says:

    Only certain information is good... Your job, in a sense, with each file is to separate the valuable, pertinent information from the pointless information.

In some ways, I feel like this is an analogy for reading this book. There is a significant amount of writing in it that seems pointless. Not to an overwhelming degree, but its certainly a theme. Thing such as dense, textbook-esque explanations of tax procedure. Or an entire chapter made up of fragmented conversations, until one of them reaches an important point and its suddenly thrust into full focus. You could argue that it was the same for in Infinite Jest, but there that sort of stuff was usually relegated to the end notes. Here it's slap bang in the middle of the text.

It was my conclusion that, in reading the book, its the author's intention for you to take on the same role as the IRS employees and learn to filter out "valuable, pertinent information from the pointless information." And the fact that someone would write a book this way made me feel very... I don't know. I guess it could be described as third-person existential dread. Like, "who the fuck writes a book this way?" Maybe i'm overthinking it.

Still, it's the kind of thing you read and think: "I'm not surprised that the person who wrote this ended up committing suicide." I hope that doesn't sound callous or loathsome; I'm conflicted on whether it's a disrespectful thing to say. It's not meant to be, more an honest reflection of how it made me feel emotionally.

If you have the patience for it or have enjoyed Wallace's fiction in the past, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


Just over halfway through this. It's been a while since I read a book with an unreliable narrator and I'm very much enjoying. Some of the character dynamics remind me of the film 12 Angry Men, in that there's lots of inter-character conflict playing out in a small space.

I don't have much more to say on this one other than i'm excited to read on.

The Cold War


Another one that I'm halfway through. I picked this one up after OftenBen bumped kleinbl00's Geopolitical book post a month or so back. I'd actually been looking for a book that does the a similar thing for WW2 for a while, but settled for this.

It's interesting to see how often the US' attempts to instil the 'right' governments in places such as Chile and Guatemala led to the complete opposite, which they were then basically forced to support. It's also clever how the smaller powers would leverage the US and Russia to their own ends too.

It was eye-opening that figures like Mao and Che Guevara were seen as hero figures by their supporters not necessarily for their competence or their results, but simply as they represented 'revolutionary romanticism'. I think it draws parallels to the same sort of attitude that allowed Brexit to pass or Trump to be voted in. Not necessary because they're good or believed to be the right choice, but because they're a 'fuck you'.

kleinbl00  ·  257 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    I'd actually been looking for a book that does the a similar thing for WW2 for a while, but settled for this.

I can vouch for Toland. The Rising Sun is a soup-to-nuts chronology of how Japan stumbled into WWII with both arms open despite knowing it was fundamentally unwinnable. And while The Last 100 Days doesn't go into the lead-up, it sure gives you a ground-level view of the fall of the 3rd reich. Those are the only two I've read. There may be better.

If you want a fictionalized account of the decline and fall of Eurasia, I wholeheartedly recommend The Century Trilogy even though I've only gotten through the first two books. It's melodrama but it's good. Think Downton Abbey but steamier and largely historically accurate.

    I didn’t love Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants” while I was reading it. Parts of it were gripping. The depictions of the battles – Tannenberg, the Marne, the Somme – are especially well executed, as is much of the Russian Revolution. And the discussions of strategy were absorbing once I got past the passages of clumsy dialogue. But other parts couldn’t end soon enough. There are multiple sex scenes – for the most part they were as uncomfortable as they were unnecessary. And there are some boring attempts at developing characters who are better thought of as avatars of whole institutions or social movements – the English earl who becomes an officer, the German nobleman who becomes a spy, the Welsh coal miner who takes up arms, the goofy American who becomes a diplomat, the poor Russian who joins the revolution, the other poor Russian who becomes an American gangster, the suffragist. By the end of the book, I was moderately interested in the fates of only maybe two of the dozen or so significant characters.

    So I didn’t love the book. But I picked up the second installment of Follett’s Century Trilogy, “The Winter of the World,” the day after I finished the first. As you may have guessed, the second book covers Hitler’s rise in Germany, the Spanish civil war, the British efforts to repel fascism, the famous World War II battles, the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and the Soviet soldiers, and the development of the atomic bomb. And I’ve found myself thinking about the first book almost daily.

    I liked the strategic machinations and loved the war stories, but it’s the first-person perspectives that I haven’t been able to shake. Take, for example, the story of Walter von Ulrich, the son of an influential German official who arrogantly drove the country to war, and Walter’s childhood friend, a Brit named Earl Fitzherbert. Walter was a dove, Earl a hawk, but war is an indiscriminate machine that sucks in the meek and eager alike. They soon found themselves on the battlefield, mingling casually in no man’s land. These kinds of coincidences defy credulity, and I have to remind myself that they did, in fact, actually happen.

    Over and over, the characters just happen to find themselves at the intersections of history. They’re in the key battles, the important meeting rooms. It’s improbable, but unimportant. The characters are just our excuse to be there as history unfolds. And a lot of history unfolds – Follett did a remarkable amount of research for the book, which comes in at around 1,000 pages.

    Much of what the characters experience was nearly unthinkable. It’s a theme that came up again, even more horrifically, in the second book of the trilogy. I haven’t moved on to the third book yet, but I imagine it’s the outlier – the time when, miraculously, the worst didn’t happen. Still, as I read the headlines of today – about the dissolution of the European project, the brinkmanship in Northeast Asia, the rise of far-right groups and the polarization of America and much of the West – the unthinkability that thematically defines books one and two creeps into my mind and refuses to leave.

    With hindsight, it’s easy to say those old wars and the surrounding upheaval in Follett’s books were inevitable. But to most of the men and women of the time, they were unimaginable. “Fall of Giants” allowed me to imagine it, and I almost wish it hadn’t.

rezzeJ  ·  256 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Thanks for the recommendations. I'm definitely adding The Rising Sun to the list.

I'm intrigued by Follett's trilogy. I don't believe I've read any full-on historical fiction before. I'll keep that one on the radar.

kleinbl00  ·  256 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I would say Follett's Eye of the Needle is the best thriller I've ever read. He leaves Forsythe in the dust.

Century Trilogy is modern; he'd been a living god for 20 years when he started it. It's meladromatic where his earlier stuff isn't. But melodrama sells, and he nails it.

Try Eye of the Needle. it's short.

rezzeJ  ·  255 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I read the sample over my coffee this morning. It hooked me right in.

I was flirting with Dune, but I think I'll go for Eye of the Needle once I'm done with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

kleinbl00  ·  255 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I haven't read Cuckoo's Nest. The movie was enough for me. I read some bleak-ass stuff but somehow that one has always seemed a bridge too far.

There are people who are massive fans of Dune. I... am the opposite of that.

rezzeJ  ·  254 days ago  ·  link  ·  

On the other hand, I haven't seen the film.

I just finished the book a few minutes ago. Apart from the inevitable ending of the story, I didn't feel it was overly bleak. In fact, hiding underneath the initial conflict and melancholy, there was a quiet sense of hope at the heart of it all.

I think this is gifted to book chiefly through the first-person narration by Bromden, which I gather was lost from the film (along with some key parts of his character development). So I can imagine that contributed to a bit of a shift in tone.