You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

One of the great things about science fiction or fantasy is how it can explore facets of life in news ways. Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly is a perfect example.

Bob Arctor is a drug addict who lives in his house with his friends who are also drug addicts. He also has a secret life as Fred, an undercover police officer who's trying to bust the people in his house so the police can get to higher distributors. Bob is addicted to Substance D (for Death), a highly addictive synthesized drug. As Fred, he wears a special scramble suit which hides his appearance and voice, so that his identity as a narc won't be revealed.

The catch is, Substance D has affected Bob's brain, causing a split in his hemispheres. This creates a sort of split personality. Fred's superiors, who can only deduce from his reports that he's one of the people who live in or frequent his own house, order him to spy on Bob Arctor. As Fred, he watches the scanner recordings (video) of Bob Arctor. As Bob Arctor, he has to get his friends out of the house so that the police can bug it, but still gets paranoid about who might be listening or watching. Fred starts to forget that one of the people he watches his really himself.

Some detail is given to how the brain works, the different hemispheres doing different parts and taking over when the other side becomes disfunctional. Bob/Fred's symptoms aren't a classic split personality but a result of each half of the brain becoming separately aware and trying to take over his personality. Police medics give him tests to determine his impairment, and describe what's wrong with him and how the brain usually works. It turns out he also fails to recognize or mis-recognizes common objects.

The story unfolds as Bob and Fred become more and more unaware of each other. The plot device of having a narc who's true identity is necessarily secret is a great match for the drug addiction and the dual personalities. The imaginary life of the narc becomes real, or the real life of addict becomes imaginary. He ends up at a clinic where they give addicts a new name and identity. Thus, both Bob and Fred cease to exist, annihilating one another, becoming Bruce. Bruce ends up with a very simple mind, Substance D having apparently permanently changed his personality.

The book is a solid A. It's a great view of reality and philosophical questions. I'm particularly intrigued by how the brain works and how it forces us to experience reality. This book shows a lot of insight into that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A review of the last eight months

Looking over my posts since I started this blog, I can see what kind of books I've been reading, and how closely I've matched my estimate of types of books I tend to read.

I've read 21 books in the last 8 months, including audiobooks. This includes one SF book I haven't blogged about yet. That's 243 days, or about 11.5 days per book. Some overlap due to listening to audiobooks at the same time as reading books.

I've read 6 science fiction books, only 2 fantasies (Eragon, and Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell) (plus a Harry Potter book which I'm almost finished with), one horror/fantasy (The Song of Kali), 6 nonfiction books (including David Sedaris' books), one true book of literature (Anna Karenina), 2 action novels (Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin books), and 2 books by Philip Roth, which can be classified as mainstream or SF/alternate history.

Looking at the list, I see a couple of surprises. Only 2 fantasies (plus Harry Potter). Many nonfiction books, only one literary book. I'm surprised that I've read more SF than fantasy, but that's probably due to some books coming up to the top of my reading list at the same time. I need to find some more literary works to read (or listen to). Other than that it's been a good run.

I've also read or listened to: a couple of graphic novels, several magazines, and a couple of months worth of podcasts.

Some things on my long term reading list: Crime and Punishment; Dune; American Gods (by Neil Gaiman); Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.

Friday, September 08, 2006

David Sedaris

I've had a copy of David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day around the house for a while, and finally picked it up to read. I also grabbed an audiobook of his Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim at the library, so I got to read an listen to him alternately (he narrates the audiobook).

Sedaris writes humorous essays. Mostly he write about growing up in his family in North Carolina. Or about living in New York and working in jobs like cleaning apartments or moving furniture. My favorite essay, in Talk Pretty, is "The Youth in Asia," about his family's series of dogs and cats. Not only did I laugh out loud, I laughed so hard I cried. Haven't done that in a while.

Also funny was "The Learning Curve," about his getting a position as a writing teacher despite having no experience. The second half of that book is about his moving to France with his boyfriend, and his experiences there. Funniest in this section was "Picka Pocketoni," where he encounters Americans on the subway in Paris who figure him for a Frenchman so talk about him right in front of his face.

Dress Your Family has some funny stories, like "The Ship Shape," about a beach house that his family almost buys, so that they keep track of it over the years. Or "Full House," about him going to a slumber party with friends and playing strip poker. The Girl Next Door is about his interactions with a nine-year-old neighbor girl and her absentee mother. "Six to Eight Black Men" is a hilarious account of the differences between cultures. "Slumus Lordicus" is about his family going into real estate and dealing with tenants.

Both these books get an A. David Sedaris has columns in The New York Times and Esquire, and has read stories on NPR. I look forward to hearing more.