Summer Reading

Although I haven’t gone on vacation yet, I’ve been tearing through my stack of books whenever possible. Over the past couple of months, I’ve tackled some pretty interesting (and occasionally dense) stuff:

Anathem Nation The Years of Rice and Salt
★★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★★
After having plodded through the Baroque Cycle in a slow and ponderous way last year, I approached Anathem with some unease given Stephenson’s penchant for overwhelming amounts of nested information. This time, though, the ride was smooth and thoroughly entertaining. The detachment between the main character (who leads a cloistered life) and the world he is practically thrown back into make it easier to accept the little twists in vocabulary and alternate universe history that Stephenson has wrought into the book’s winsome reality, and it is through his eyes that you glide into that reality smoothly (and deeper) as the plot progresses. Very, very good. Another good read where the characters’ worldview sustains and enhances the story, but in a completely different way. Pratchett takes a break from his “usual” alternate universes and weaves a compelling tale by playing two culture’s biases against each other while bewitching us with the way adolescents from each try to make sense of the aftermath of a tsunami and rebuild a functional community as the survivors (both good and bad) drift in. Enchanting, entertaining, and written with superb humor and wit, it makes you yearn for more along the same lines – if only because it features tree-climbing octopi. More culture differences, but in a very, very different way: the central premise of the book is that the West as we know it was wiped out by plague during the 700s and that all the crucial events that shaped modern culture (the Renaissance, crossing of the Atlantic and the Pacific, the advent of the steam engine, world wars, women’s lib and splitting the atom) take place in the confluence of Chinese, Hindu and Muslim cultures. This is masterful alternate history told by visiting the lives and tribulations of a number of characters over the course of events, and is sure to make you wonder if to some extent we would not be better off (as a civilization) if Eastern philosophy and worldviews had a larger role in our affairs. Highly recommended.