Books Read – January 2011

One Night at the Call Center by Chetan Bhagat

God shows up in this one. At least twice.

The title’s pretty descriptive. The story concerns one night at a call center in India. Provides an alternate view on Americans, and it’s not pretty. Reveals that we and they are not so very different in terms of hopes/dreams/fears, except that we, perhaps, take a bit more for granted.

The protagonist is painfully unaware of himself, but the book’s main payoff comes from his growing self-realization.

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

I’ve had this one sitting by my bed for six months or so. (Thanks, Katherine!) I finally managed to getting around to reading it, and I’m glad I did.

I first read Mieville’s stripped bare The City & The City, followed by Un Lun Dun. Where The City & The City was cold and restrained, Perdido Street Station is a wild, hot, thrashing of a novel. The story sometimes flails around sometimes in a seemingly uncontrolled fashion, but whatever rough edges it has are smoothed over by the sheer exuberance of his language.

Reading it was like visiting a dream. Not a completely pleasant one at that.

Shuddertown by Nick Spencer

A graphic novel collection. I don’t remember much about this one.

Johnny Hiro by Fred Chao

A fun little comic about a fella who rescues his girlfriend from Godzilla, among other things. (I think there are ninjas at the opera…)

There’s a lot of great visual humor in this one.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

I’ve read every one of Johnson’s books, except his first, and they’re all worthwhile.

In this one, Johnson makes a compelling case for the way innovation can be encouraged through sharing knowledge. Innovation thrives when human beings shine their pattern recognition engines at facts, ideas, and whimsies from all over the place.

There’s a lot of callbacks to topics in his previous books, but this one is impressive for the breadth of research gathering that it must have required.

As I read it, I imagined Johnson hunched over a library table heaping with books. In actuality, he probably did much of it on a laptop computer.

Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat

This one’s up there with Perdido Street Station for sheer strangeness.

It’s the story of heroes who foiled the ultimate badness, and then lived on. (Or so I gather.) Thirty years later, and they’re unaccountably bored.

The tone is wavery and the diction odd. The narrator intrudes at times to protect his characters or the reader.

It’s a sleepy, dreamy book, and I often almost fell asleep to it.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Well, that tears it. I’m done eating animals.

Read it if you dare.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

You might think that this is about time travel. And you’d be right. But not as right as if you thought it was a book about a son reconciling to the memory of his father.

One of the better time travel novels I’ve read.

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