by Albert Camus
So, ever read a book centered around a single protagonist where you start to realize "Hey, in real life I wouldn't want to spend even 30 seconds talking to this person - why am I giving several hours over to them?" So it goes with "The Fall," in which a pompous blowhard tells the story of his inner life. As things progress, the narrator's (and the book's) objectives become more clear, but the whole enterprise seems to be in the service of a handful of moral-philosophical concepts which I honestly didn't find all that interesting. Many people seem to love this book, seem to find it profound and resonant; it seems like the sort of book which might reveal itself a lot more upon rereading, but I don't plan on doing that. On this first go-round, it appears to be a novel which demands a good deal of effort for relatively little reward.
Mind of My Mind
by Octavia Butler
In science-fiction - in all fiction, I suppose - it's standard to employ a sort of substitution. That is, fictional people and places stand in for real people and places: so, a real-world political figure becomes an imaginary tyrant, a real society becomes an alien planet, etc. I'm not saying that this is a bad convention, but a remarkable thing about "Mind of My Mind" is how it seems to deal with a wide array of real-world issues without directly addressing any of them. Eugenics, black American liberation struggles, black nationalism and Afrofuturism, racism, feminism, consumerism, drug addiction, cults, class hierarchies - all of these things have a sort of felt presence in this story about a community of psychics in present-day Los Angeles. There are so many ideas here, and it's all part of an exciting, suspenseful novel with compelling characters. Really, this book is pretty great; the characters are so interesting that I wish the whole thing were longer, actually.
sum-up: Highly recommended.
Irons in the Fire
by John McPhee
Born and raised in New Jersey, McPhee is a distinctly American writer - he's written a lot over the years, but I think that perhaps the main themes he keeps returning to are those of space, time and distance, as manifested in the vastness of the American landscape. Topics discussed in this book include contemporary cattle rustling on the ranges of Nevada; the only undisturbed ancient forest in the U.S.; the weathering-away and reconstruction of Plymouth Rock; and, the largest pile of tires in the world (it's in California). The longest (and best) story, "The Gravel Page," is about the FBI's forensic geology unit - how the study of rocks and minerals has been an essential resource in a handful of remarkable criminal cases. McPhee writes with grace and charm, and with a famous eye for detail, but he didn't always win me over, here: there were several times when I had to force myself to remain interested. More than anything, this book is probably a relatively minor component in a large and still-expanding body of work.
sum-up: Good, but probably not McPhee's best.