18 January 2015

The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie

An audio book.

Unintelligible beginning; stuck with it a while to see what all the fuss was about some years ago when Rushdie's life was threatened by some fanatics. This book is what some people like to call "less than accessible." In the end, I came to love it.

Found online: a complete pdf of the book at https://archive.org/details/TheSatanicVerses

Also, this very informative "Notes on Salman Rushdie The Satanic Verses (1988)" by Paul Brians, Emeritus Professor of English at Washington State University, from which I'll quote a bit:
To a secularized European, his critique of Islam in the novel
seems very mild and tentative; but there has never been anything
like it in the Muslim world. Scoffers and libertines there have
been; but they were fundamentally unserious. Rushdie seems to
have been trying to become the Muslim Voltaire; but Islam has
never undergone an equivalent to the European Enlightenment,
let alone the development of a “higher criticism” such as the West has subjected the Bible to for the past two centuries. ...
...In the secularized West his critique seems routine; in much of
the Islamic East, it is unspeakable. The modernist assumptions
it springs from are irrelevant, hardly understood. Many Muslim
critics have asserted that equivalent blasphemy against Christian
beliefs would never be tolerated, whereas in fact a wildly anti-
Catholic comedy like “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for
You” can have a long, profi table run without any encountering
any physical or even legal threat. Obscenity is taken much more
seriously in the West than blasphemy. Rushdie tried to bridge the
gulf between East and West and instead fell into the void. No one
can reconcile these two views with each other because they are
rooted in basically incompatible, even hostile world views.
And here is a quote attributed to Rushdie himself, from Professor Brians's "Notes:"
When criticism is placed off-limits as “disrepectful,” and therefore offensive, something strange is happening to the concept of respect.
I'm glad to have listened to this excellent reading. Sam Dastor, the narrator did a superb job. He managed to jump between appropriate accents and voice approximations without it being obtrusive or annoying, which often happens in audio books.

One day I hope to get a copy of this in print and read through it that way. I have referred to the pdf copy of it that I mentioned above several times during the audio sessions, just to see how things are spelled, and to remind myself of what I've been listening to. In spite of its difficult beginning -- and overall difficulty-- the book is quite entertaining, thoughtful, and inspiring, in an unusual way.

A String of Beads, by Thomas Perry

This is a well-plotted book, the latest (I think) in a series about Jane Whitefield, a woman who is an expert in helping people disappear.

Whitefield grew up (so the story goes) in the Tonawanda Seneca clan in Western New York State.

I will read more of these, most likely. I've read better prose, and Perry employs a great deal of exposition, but the characters were interesting, and to an expatriate New Yorker, so was the setting.

Kirkus Reviews review

06 January 2015

Peripheral, by William Gibson

This was a little hard to get into, but I'm glad I got there. Gibson tends to write sparingly, not bothering to explain what things are, or what (made up sci-fi) words mean (e.g. assemblers, cosplay, well, read the review I've linked below, that guy did a better job than I will of explaining this problem) and while frugality is generally a good policy when spraying words upon the page, sometimes I could use just a little bit of guidance, like, what the fuck was that?

All in all, this is a terrific book. Once I got past the abovementioned initiation phase, it was a page-turner, and I was sorry when I got to the end.

There is time travel, of a sort, and some thoughts about the paradoxes that come from that. When Gibson's future characters meddle with the events of the past (the future people are in London, the past people in America, maybe East Kentucky?), it creates a "stub" of time-continuum. That is, a new branch grows away from the future inhabited by the meddlers. A nod to the alternative universe concept.

A review in The Guardian

03 January 2015

To Read ... I hope

Joe Hill www.indiebound.org/book/9780062200570

Barbara Kingsolver Flight Behavior   (read 14 November 2013)

The Ring Road,  by Edward Weinman http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17222014-the-ring-road

To read

The Sense of Style, by Steven Pinker  (recommended by RS)

Adios, Strunk and White, by Gary Hoffman (mentioned in S of S, mentioned by RS, but has this disturbing bit in its description: "Develop a distinct voice required by major university application forms..."

300,000,000 by Blake Butler, and the review mentions 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, and some other works. I'm not sure that any of this will be actually readable, but it all sounds interesting, and perhaps a peek at what the young people are writing?

Peripheral, by William Gibson, sounds fascinating, but I have found some of his stuff to be just too inaccessible. I enjoyed Pattern Recognition, and some others, though.