Waiting in the rain for the M41 bus last Tuesday, one of my favourite libraries behind me, Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek. Co-designed by Fritz Bornemann, who also did Deutsche Oper, Museumszentrum Berlin-Dahlem, the Berlin-Wedding Rathaus extension, and other bits of Berlin architecture I have a thing for.
The third in Genvieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series, which I started reading late-2015 with The Invisible Library, and followed a year ago with The Masked City. Read what I blabbed about both of those so you know what I’m on about with The Burning Page.
It’s afternoon and I have work and other bollocks to be doing, so this isn’t going to be a long one. I also came straight off Revenger into reading this, so I’m a little un-nuanced here, that being such a brilliant, consummate piece of story-telling. This was the weakest for me of the three, like the middle child, or the second act when it’s used as a setup for the final bout of mayhem. I felt like she’d told the story before in the first novel, and let neither the characters nor the implied story to progress.
I’ve been watching Shadowhunters lately. Ok more than lately, it’s on the second season and I’m still watching. Not for the soggy white tea-towels of Clary and Simon, but for everyone else. It’s frankly trashy as a story. Young Adult vampire werewolf fantasy dirge with profoundly derivative narrative and action of the “bad decisions made for drama!” kind. Yet the supporting actors — who carry the weight of the show and are far more interesting, as well as being a solid multiethnic and queer mob — are deliciously entrancing to watch. Plus sexy as all fuck. But the show doesn’t commit to them or their stories.
And that’s the problem here and, after three books, the series. Let them fuck, ditch Irene, or let her be competent operator she we saw in the first book. We’re two stories on from that and she’s both kicked arse and had hers handed, yet I’m not reading any of those scars or notches she’s earned. There’s a really good story possible in the world Cogman’s created, but it isn’t here.
The second from Genevieve Cogman, whose The Invisible Library I got a right kick out of early last year when I was in—once again—Düsseldorf with Isabelle. I established back then I’ll read the shit out of whatever she writes, and yet, and yet. The Masked City is more of the same. Loved it, read it like I was ploughing fields, and yet about four-fifths of the way through I thought, “What am I reading here?” I decided on that ambivalent category Young Adult.
Perhaps it’s my linguistic snobbery (when I’m not stringing fucks together with cunts—or when I am. Either or.) that much of what I’ve read in the last eighteen months, however captivating the story, the writing is lacking. Sometimes it’s this adjectival snare I notice, “Oh, you used ‘overgrown’ two paragraphs ago” which connotes to me a simplicity in language, especially when I notice habits. Well, what do you want, Frances? Fucking Chaucer? I don’t know, Other Frances, maybe a thesaurus? Maybe caring for the words and how they are threaded together over pages equally with the story. And then I feel like a … umm haughty snob. (You are, Frances.)
That Young Adult thing. Look, Jo Walton’s Among Others is probably in that category, and I would argue in my truculent way Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory also is, and both are absolute masterpieces of English language. The difference is when Young Adult is code for adult prudery over what kids get up to (sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll), for stopping at the belt, for making it to first base in sense but not even playing the game in spirit. As much as I love Cogman and the world of her Library, I want her to let the characters go. Clearly they want to bone like Oglaf.
That was mainly elaborating on what bothered me somewhat in The Invisible Library and a couple of paragraphs on that shouldn’t be construed as “Aw wa’ fukkin bollocks, eh?” Will definitely read the next from Cogman, very much enjoyed downing it over breakfast with grapefruit juice and rolled oats. (I gotta say, my breakfast. Work of art.) Needs more boning.
Two weeks or so to go until my (it seems now firmly) annual revision of whatever I’ve read since last mid-October, and having just finished Jo Walton’s Among Others, which is just wow, I’m filled with a kind of utterly euphoric afterglow, and with Iain M. Banks’ new one arriving next week, and … yes, and … doing a bit of preparation of my celebration/damnation of a year of books, I noticed there were a couple I didn’t bother to blog about: re-reads, 2nd, 3rd, nth of the usual pestiferous authors whom I turn to when I can’t face my current reading pile.
Sometimes the non-fiction I read — and occasionally the fiction — is just too dense for lying in bed at night. It goes in cycles … hmm, I’m not sure that’s the right word, because it’s not a predictable routine, maybe it goes in a chaotic but non-random periodicity. There’s a lot of guilt involved also. I should be reading x by author n, an adjective study on the verb of noun, printed by y university, bound in hardback with very nice choice of paper, (small) typography and layout, a beautiful cover to boot, and at least a third devoted to footnotes of the kind that need to be read. And I want to read these. I’ve got a whole bookshelf of them, and around 2/3 of my wishlist is comprised of such things — even before the philosophy stuff which I’m always thinking of reading gets a mention.
What I want to read though is stories of a particular kind, which cleverly insert those philosophical and political questions, which allow for a certain imagination, which fill my head with images and leave me after with that euphoria, mostly which I find in science-fiction. Sometimes too, I just want my eyes to pass over words without much effort, just getting a fix and provided the quality is good enough I’m not too fussy.
Of course the solution to this could be found by a) going to a public library and snarfing great piles of books, which in Berlin would probably be Haus Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek; b) going to a second-hand bookstore and snarfing great piles of second-hand books for €5 or less, and getting over my new-book snobbery; or c) having the kind of income that makes snarfing 20 new books a week unproblematic.
Given the hilariously voracious role-model reading habits of Amy, the subject of Among Others —and the absence of a realistic c — b then a it is.
I can also just plunder the 300 or so books on my shelves. And so I did.
After or around reading Graeber’s Debt, I reread all six of Charles Stross’ Merchant Prince series, for the 3rd time I think. They’re quite a flüssig read but have enough socio-political threads to not be a tedious costume drama, though from around the fourth book, where it becomes to rely on American politics as a base narrative, I have to do some judicious ignoring as that meandering plot line I always find a little forced and unnecessary, as well as at the expense of some really interesting lines of thought.
They’re a little like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, books I reread with some regularity even though I know the story and weaknesses and all the rest, just because I occasionally like returning to those worlds.
After that, while I was waiting for a couple of books to arrive, I engulfed a few Iain M. Banks. Not quite ready to slurp down Stonemouth again, though perhaps Whit once more soon. This time it wasn’t the usual favourites, instead the ones that are a little outside the Culture canon, or somehow in my mind not the ones I think of when I imagine Iain Banks (Feersum Endjinn!).
Player of Games (3rd or 4th time), Look to Windward (at least 2nd time), Inversions (again at least 2nd time), The Algebraist (probably 3rd time). You can see my need for more books.
Look to Windward and Inversions I have an association in my mind as being not such good/monumental works. Maybe I didn’t find them captivating so much the first time, or maybe the covers I associate with them is not the typical attentively beautiful art (the former is almost airport novel quality), but this time both became firmly adored. The Algebraist, ah well, it’s just a sublime tale that goes nowhere, or maybe goes everywhere to arrive battered, back where it started. It’s one of his best, full with an existential emptiness and dirty black humour.
Yes, so an additional ten books bringing my year’s consumption to almost one a week. Think I shall make an impromptu trip to St George’s tomorrow and pick up some second-hand sci-fi.
When I have my pirate castle I shall also have a library like this. I’m not sure which, maybe all of them joining one to the other. My perfect job then is not reviewer or writer or any of these, it is reader. To read and do nothing with it.
This is a zoo where the inmates aren’t so friendly. For a long time around the hacker world there have been websites and other online repositories of virus, trojan and other malware code, made available for anyone who wants to see how they are put together. Cyberzoo lets you see them in action. It’s a beautiful art.
The use of the term ‘virus’ to classify those bits of computer code that have wreaked havoc for network administrators makes some sense when the similarities between them and their biological counterparts are considered. Both carry the minimum amount of ‘information’ to reproduce in the right setting, and although they can function as indifferent parasites, leaving no noticeable trace of their existence, few can be considered benevolent–while many are downright lethal–for their hosts.
Probably because of our less-than-amicable relationship with biological viruses there haven’t been many efforts to preserve their biodiversity, with the exception of various bioweapons and disease control programs, of course. Well, Argentina-based artist Gustavo Romano has created such a preserve for the computer species of virus. ‘CyberZoo,’ Romano’s web-based project, serves as an in-progress collection of the ‘wildest expressions of artificial life’ available on the internet. In essence, ‘CyberZoo’ positions itself as an effort of art conservation, accessing and cataloguing the attempts of culture to survive the death of its creators.