Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan


This was an entertaining read that reminded me a bit of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother: although Robin Sloan's book is more of a literary mystery and less of a call to action against an increasingly intrusive government (OK, Penumbra isn't that at all), the attempts to reconcile old knowledge and new today strike a similar chord. As Sloan notes on his Web site, "This is a novel about books and technology, cryptography and conspiracy, friendship and love" -- much of which could also be said about Little Brother. You probably won't learn as much about Aldus Manutius, early printing, and font punches in that book, though. 

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling


Kaling says something quite valuable about the creative process and taking control: when she and her friend Brenda are working on Matt & Ben, which eventually became a breakout hit at the Fringe Festival, they let it grow organically out of their own bits. "Bits are essentially 'nonsense time,'" she writes, "or, to describe it more pejoratively, 'fucking around.'" They publicized the play on their own, and they sunk their time and effort into it because it was, at its base, fun. "We had no idea what we were doing, but we had a purpose after two years of living in New York and not having on. Matt & Ben was a respite from helplessness."

It's odd, how just focusing your efforts on something like that can grow into such a big thing. A friend and I recently collaborated to put together a literary salon, and it had much the same effect: we produced a book and got together a group of artists to share something, and even if there was a chance that no one would care or nothing would come of it, it was a great way to spend a few months -- and it forced us, as well as our friends, to hone writing we'd been sitting on for a long time, to take a chance and put our work out into the world.

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin


A number of people have told me I should read Ursula K. Le Guin, and so I looked forward to this classic of feminist science fiction. I didn't dislike it, but I did have a hard time getting into it; and for whatever reason, as Ai and Estraven were crossing the Gobrin Ice, I couldn't help but think of Cheryl Strayed and her doomed ice pick on the Pacific Crest Trail (a rather strange free association). Perhaps science fiction will never really be my "thing," but I'm glad I gave it a shot at least.

On books

I've been keeping, for the past year and a half, a rather obsessive list of books I've read. Here, I'm going to try and write scatter-shot notes on these books as I finish them, in the interest of forcing myself to reflect a little more deeply on things.