Books I Read on Holiday, Part Two

We’re on our way back to Panama City tomorrow. I’ve read some more books, and will spend my first hours in civilization desperately seeking English language literature. Following on from part one, here’s what I read:

Little Brother – This is a Cory Doctorow novella for young audiences. It tells a gripping, Orwellian tale of terrorist attacks, hackers and civil disobedience in our uber-surveilled world. It’s a righteous indictment (from a Canadian, I’m proud to point out) of torture, police brutality and how 9/11 has restricted personal freedoms in the US. It’s also full of cogent mini and micro essays on a slough of digital rights issues: file sharing, online privacy, cryptography, DNS and so forth. They read a little like EFF propaganda at times, and only present one perspective on these thorny issues. I almost always agree with that perspective, but it’s so vigorously argued I’d want young reader to consider some alternative points of view.

Next – Michael Crichton’s novel was one of the bloated, mouldering books on the shelf here at Punta Laurel. I hadn’t read a Crichton book since Jurassic Park in my adolescence, so I thought I’d give this one a try. He might as well have skipped the novel and gone straight to the screenplay. That’s what the book reads like–action sequences interspersed with a lot of pseudo-science. I did appreciate that both Doctorow and Crichton included extensive bibliographies at the end of their books–I wish all novelists would do this.

Everything’s Eventual – In the past, I’ve found Stephen King’s short stories to be his creepiest work. Not so much with this set of 14 stories. Most of them seemed a little flawed, or incomplete, or wrong-noted somehow. I was pleased to read “The Little Sisters of Eluria”, which featured Roland, the gunslinger from King’s excellent “Dark Tower” series of books. I kept hearing Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy” in my head while reading it. I haven’t seen the movie made from the stand-out story “1408”, starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson. While I often find that short stories lend themselves to novels, there isn’t really enough meat on the bones of this one for even a 90-minute movie. Judging from the trailer, the screenwriters fleshed things out quite a bit.

TribesSeth Godin’s latest book is, to quote Stephen King, “a little fingernail paring of a book”. It’s his bite-sized take on leadership, and largely feels like a distillation or tweaking of the ideas from his previous books. One of Godin’s gifts is, I think, identify truths that should be self-evident, and articulating them in an inspiring and consumable way. His ideas are worth revisiting (“safe is risky and risky is safe” is a mantra around Capulet), and Godin does make some astute observations about leadership in an Internet-enabled world. However, the book feels a little rose-tinted, under-structured and incomplete for my liking. I think it under-estimates the difficulties of leadership, and is pretty light on the how-to’s. Still, many should find it inspiring, and I’d recommend it as a quick primer in Godinosity.

The Interloper – A first novel by Antoine Wilson. It’s a mixed bag, really. There are some terrific bits, and some lovely characterization. On the other hand, the diction feels overly fussy in places, and the plot is pretty predictable. I’m often frustrated by the work of young artists when it’s too concerned with the process of their art form. Full of letters faked by the protagonist and rambling diary entries, The Interloper seems overly interested in the act of writing. I did like a quote in the novel that apparently comes from another source “writing is like trying to dance with a bear who only wants to wrestle”. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it somehow resonates.

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