Wednesday, August 01, 2007
BooksFirst - July 2007
Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
Genghis Khan and the Making of The Modern World by Jack Weatherford
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
I read The Blind Side back in November which is the football quasi-follow-up to Michael Lewis’s Moneyball. Lewis has nailed the fly on the wall narrative style for situations and businesses you would otherwise never learn about. Liars Poker is the definitive 80s money book and Moneyball is the baseball book for both fans and non-fans like me. He spends a season tracking Billy Beane as he manages the Oakland A’s to a playoff spot with a fraction of the payroll of bigger teams. In addition to following the drama of the wheeling and dealing, a lot of colorful baseball history and lore is exposed as poppycock. This is baseball as played by Tom Wolfe’s masters of the universe. The narrative alternates between the saga of the A's and background information on the statistics and probability of the most documented but also most superstitious of sports. The access Lewis has is nearly omniscient and only rarely does he intrude himself into the narrative. As an erstwhile Orioles fan, I can’t figure out why these methods don’t work everywhere. I will never be able to hear a trade deal again without second guessing the value of the players and wondering what is really happening behind the scenes.
Kim Stanley Robinson is a well-respected science fiction writer that I have never read before. Perhaps his most famous work is his Red/Green/Blue Mars series. His newest trilogy starts with 40 Signs of Rain. I bought it mostly because it is set in Washington DC and I wanted to read about the destruction of our nations capitol. For the most part, Robinson gets most of the geography right. He sets scenes in and near the Red Line, Alexandria, and around the Mall. The set up is the same one used much more hokily in The Day After Tomorrow, global warming shuts off the Gulf Stream and chaos ensues. I immediately liked the clean crisp style of the book. The characters suffer from science fiction hero earnestness and hyper-competentness, but they have quirks and foibles as well. The most interesting one is the venal visiting scientist who always seems to be working an angle. As the first book in a trilogy, this book is all wind-up. There really isn’t even any action until the last one hundred pages. The real action is looking at the behind the scenes inside baseball in scientific research and politics.
Yes, I broke down and read it. I succumbed to Pottermania and has to see what the big deal was about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And as I suspected, I don’t think I suffered any from not having read the middle five books. I’ve seen all the movies except for the newest one, so I kind of knew what was happening. It’s not hard to figure out who is good and who is evil. It is that kind of book. It probably deserves its own post where I can put in some spoiler warnings for those people would read it, but haven’t by now. Part of the problem with a book as huge as this one, is that I didn’t read it as much for the story as I meta-read it, always comparing it to other books in the genre and second guessing the plot twists. While the first half of the book dragged, once the final showdown got set into motion, the pace picked up. While I enjoyed the story, I’m still glad I haven’t spent a couple of thousand pages getting there.