Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reading Dump - January

A new year with new reading goals and so far, so good:

- The Remaining by D.J. Molles
- The Remaining: Aftermath by D.J. Molles
- Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell
- Blindness by Jose Saramango
- Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

The Remaining: A frightfully entertaining post-apocalyptic "zombies versus survivors" scenario that's a continuous stream of action from start to finish. Nothing too difficult to digest, nothing too predictable, with just the right amount of military backdrop to keep it interesting. This is by no means Pulitzer prize award winning writing, but it is damn good fun and completely worth the price of admission.

The Remaining: Aftermath: The middle act is always a tough act to pull off well. Molles does his readers justice by doing everything that made the first "Remaining" book so enthralling without rehashing predictable plot points and character flaws. Don't allow yourself to make the mistake in thinking that this is just a "zombie" book. Just like the first book, this is an original, fast-paced, survival horror story that is a blast to read. Well done.

Cataclysm Baby: Crass but apt: A fucked up collection of short stories about fatherhood outlined as a dystopian baby name book. Eight bucks for the kindle edition is a steep price for something just shy of 120 pages but it's worth it. Mr. Bell, something is wrong (and also very right) with you. Keep doing what you're doing, just keep your distance, sir.

Blindness: A depressing yet sensible depiction of a contagious case of mass-blindness that prompts the breakdown of civilization. From good Samaritans to practical thieves, sanitation concerns to budding pockets of tribes, this book attempts to cover and answer contemplative questions that we might ask ourselves: What if everyone went blind? Who would take advantage of the situation? Who would maintain their integrity? How might the government intervene?

It's a brilliant concept beautifully rendered and, even better, reliably captured in translation from the original Portuguese. The author's choice of scarcely used punctuation is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" although "Blindness" reads more densely; there's only about fifty paragraphs in the entire book which make the 300 plus pages feel more like 450 plus. It's a chore getting through each dialogue but the overall experience is fulfilling for those patient enough to wade through Saramago's turtle-like pacing and hair-pulling formatting. A journey well worth your time.

Invisible Cities. This easily digestible travelogue supported by a fictitious narration by Marco Polo is memorable and unique. Dozens of depictions of fabricated cities evoke real-world comparisons to sprawling metropolises all over the world. Between sets of cities, a sort of comedic intermission occurs between Polo and Kublai Khan. The overall concept is well-executed; how else can you explain why so many people are fond of this collection of single-paged city descriptions? It reads like architectural porn, really.

It isn't perfect, though. Its characteristic brevity is also a detractor; it's hard to care about a city after only a page or two. Also, despite its minimalism, familiar vocabulary like parapet, veranda and estuary get marred by overly particular words with minimal context; words like balustrade, corbel, and trestle. Lastly, although I enjoy prosaic depictions of naked women as much as the next man, the first few chapters curiously feature a lot of young, bathing women tantalizing the unsuspecting traveler. Oh Marco Polo, you cad.

Perhaps it's the frequent hat tips to Venice or the seemingly overlapping descriptions, but 'Invisible Cities' is a flawed but enjoyable buffet of teasing cities that beg to be fleshed out.

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