The Dim-Post

January 11, 2015

Notes on other books I read over the summer holiday

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 6:24 am

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: Sci-fi novel in the space opera tradition which swept all the major sci-fi awards last year and is, I think, the first book to do so. All the critics are comparing her to Ian M Banks, or ‘the successor to Banks’, and that’s fair enough, but I also think there’s a lot of Ursula Le Guin’s influence in there (most of the characters are members of an ungendered humanoid race). Highly recommended. My only criticism is that in sci-fi/fantasy books with exotic character names I find it really hard to keep track of everyone.

American Prometheus by Martin J. Sherwin and Kai Bird: A biography of Robert Oppenheimer. The science writing isn’t as good as I’d like. (The gold standard of science biographies is, for me, James Glieck’s book about Feynman). If you don’t already know a lot about quantum physics then the story of Oppenheimer’s contributions to it won’t mean much. The sections on Los Alamos are excellent. I’ve wanted to read a good nonfiction account of the Manhattan Project for a long time and this was it. Oppenheimer was under FBI surveillance for much of his adult life, and his biographers had access to the FBI archives, so the level of insight they have into their subject is almost unprecedented. This could be an unexpected side-effect of the modern surveillance state: our ancestors will get really kick-ass biographies.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: My wife enjoyed it. I started but didn’t finish it. I didn’t like Atkinson’s superior, sneering attitude towards her characters, which the reader is supposed to share. Also I’m really sick of British writers writing about World War II.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle: Not for everyone but I loved it. NYT review here. If you describe the book in terms of plot it sounds banal and weird, but it’s an example of how clever story-telling and great prose can transform something simple into something dark and complex and brilliant.

The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère: Carrère wrote a biography of Phillip K Dick called I am alive and you are dead. It’s my favorite literary biography; I’ve reread it a few times and always felt bad for the author that this book wasn’t better known, and that he hadn’t made it as a writer (because if he’d published more books I would have heard of them, right?) Then I stumbled across this Paris Review interview with Carrère and learned that he’s one of the superstars of contemporary French literature. (I assumed he was a Hispanic writer working in the US.) Anyway, The Adversary is his best-selling true crime novel. It is amazing. I’m going to read everything else he’s written.


  1. Looks like you’ve read a number of good books. Ancillary Justice sounds interesting. I’ll have to pick it up sometime and give it a go. Good post!

    Comment by lovebooksandblush — January 11, 2015 @ 6:30 am

  2. time to pay my overdue fines and start requesting shit.

    Comment by dfmamea — January 11, 2015 @ 6:39 am

  3. It’s always impressive to see somebody who reads a lot of books.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — January 11, 2015 @ 8:15 am

  4. Impressive. But at the risk of being accused of hubris, I can trump that, having spent a sizeable portion of my vacation (to the chagrin of my wife and young, attention-hungry children) working on a jigsaw.

    I commenced on Christmas day, and can now announce it completed.

    I believe I’ve accomplished this in record time, because it said ‘Three to five years’ on the box.

    Comment by Lee Clark — January 11, 2015 @ 9:44 am

  5. I only had time for two short books this holiday, and they were both rereads.
    Under Western Eyes (Conrad) and The Power and the Glory (Greene). Amazing writing, both.

    Comment by Gregor W — January 12, 2015 @ 10:57 am

  6. Knowing you have a child, I take my hat off. I haven’t read that many (non work) books in the last two years combined

    Comment by max — January 12, 2015 @ 2:07 pm

  7. I’ve wanted to read a good nonfiction account of the Manhattan Project for a long time and this was it

    Have you read – it’s kinda canonical? (to the extent that there are a few minor errors in it around things that weren’t declassified when Rhodes wrote the book, and they have propagated).

    Comment by richdrich — January 12, 2015 @ 2:37 pm

  8. I’ve read about the first third of the Rhodes book, years ago, and thought it was great, but then it got bogged down in detail. Someone wrote a letter, someone requested funds, someone petitioned someone else, and I just lost interest. I should pick it up again.

    Comment by danylmc — January 12, 2015 @ 2:58 pm

  9. Wolf in White Van really is astoundingly well-written – there are so many phrases and passages worth highlighting for later reference. I have an aversion to writing in books though, so had to find this one online:

    “Normal adult shopping is something I will never actually do, because it’s no more possible for me to go shopping like normal adults do than it is for a man with no legs to wake up one day and walk. I can’t miss shopping like you’d miss things you once had. I miss it in a different way. I miss it like you would miss a train.”

    Comment by Jordan — January 13, 2015 @ 9:38 am

  10. By Carrère, I can warmly recommend Limonov (perhaps the most extraordinary biography I’ve read). Punk poet, rent boy and leader of the National Bolshevik party (Liminov, not Carrère)

    Comment by Alistair Connor — January 14, 2015 @ 11:32 pm

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