The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, 2009, 292 pages.
jPod by Douglas Coupland:
I am becoming increasingly fond of Coupland’s writing. Last summer I read Hey, Nostradamus!, which was brilliant, and one of my favourite books of 2009, and I enjoyed jPod enough that I went to my favourite used bookstore yesterday and bought a copy of Coupland’s novel Microserfs so that I would not be without more of his books to read this summer.
jPod is the story of six self-styled geeks who work for a company that produces gaming software. Narrated mainly by Ethan, one of the six team members of this pod, it details their day to day life, and draws an interesting picture of a collective autism that makes each of the individuals far more comfortable with computers than with other human beings. Events conspire to drag Ethan far outside of his regular comfort zones, and the multiple plot threads are both imaginative and funny enough to have made me laugh aloud at several points.
Douglas Coupland himself appears as a character in the book on several different occasions. At first I thought this a clever device and was pleased with myself for remembering that this phenomenon was called meta-text or meta-fiction, and all self-congratulatory, moved on. However, as Coupland’s appearances continued, I began to wonder if the man were not hugely egotistic to see himself so important and well enough known to be instantly recognizable to these software creators, and so influential as to be needed to further the plot. In the end, the meta-text was hugely annoying.
I really enjoyed the book even with the aforementioned irritant, but I can’t help feeling that I have probably missed a lot of the in-jokes of the book by neither being a software designer, much of a computer game player, and certainly nowhere near a computer geek – I had difficulty changing my default font in Microsoft Word. People in that world probably had more fun that I did, but I had considerable, and would recommend the book with warm feelings.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie byAlan Bradley:
This book is the perfect example of the imperfect gift. My twelve-year old daughter received it from my mother as a birthday gift a couple of weeks ago and practically gagged at the title, which isn’t surprising, given my daughter’s personality. Seriously, grandmothers who don’t bother to get to know their grandchildren should either give money or ask the parents for suggestions for gifts; my mum thought that this would be “a lovely book” for my daughter. My twelve-year old is a tomboy who dresses almost entirely in black and grey, likes playing tackle sports, watching wrestling and The Ultimate Fighter on TV, and who listens mainly to heavy metal music. There is no place in her world for a book with a title like that.
“Please read this and tell me what it’s about”, I was asked, “in case I see grandma and she asks me”, and I did so, plowing my way through an ever more saccharine and unbelievable murder mystery. It is the story of young Flavia de Luce [yes, really], the youngest daughter of an old family in England, who, one morning, finds a dying man in the cucumber patch, and is in time to hear his dying words. Philately [stamp collecting], penny blacks, chemistry, conjurers, and old crimes all play their part in a novel where a police force are willing to leave some of the investigating to a 13-year old girl and where only ridiculous living conditions make the plot possible at all.
Reading this book was, in my honest opinion, a complete waste of time, and the two or three seconds of enjoyment I gleaned from it just don’t make up for the rest of the struggle. Yech. The only good parts were the custard pies: those I like.