(This is a guest post from the League’s own Chris!)

Hello everybody, I’m Chris. You may know me from such comments as, “You can’t say that in public,” and “Why are you replying to me? Was I talking to you?!” Today I’m here to tell you a little about what I do when I’m not commenting at the League main page or one of the sub-blogs (I know what you’re thinking: Chris, you have time to do stuff besides commenting here? That I do surprises even me). I’ll start with what I don’t do: drive. You see, I sold my car a few years ago, and have since taken up bus riding. Let me tell you about it.

At first I thought bus riding would just be about getting from A to B when B was too far away to walk (and when you don’t have a car, “too far away to walk” develops an entirely different extension), but I quickly learned that my 40 minute bus ride each way offered an excellent opportunity to ease into my day in the morning, and decompress between work and home, where I would be required to parent, cook, clean, and spend “quality time” with people immediately upon arriving. And for me, the best way to decompress is to read. So for at least 80 minutes a day, while riding on the bus, I read.

In order to maximize the decompression coefficient of reading while bus riding, I came up with two rules. First, no phone calls: if you call me when you know I’m ridin’, somebody better be dead, or at least pretty damn near so. Second, nothing related to work. So most of my bus reading is fiction, with a bit of history and pop science (as long as it’s not related to cognitive science, so physics and evolutionary biology* are in, but philosophy and neuroscience are out).

After a few months of this, I made another discovery: with at least 80 minutes a day of bus reading, and more most weekends, I was going through books faster than my then graduate student budget could handle. So, being as smart as I am, I came up with what can only be described as one of the most brilliant ideas ever: read longer, more difficult books that I might not otherwise have read (though if asked, I might have told you I had read).

When you think of long, difficult books, which book comes to mind first? If you’re anything like me (and if you are, I’m sorry), Tolstoy’s War and Peace is the obvious choice. So I went out and bought War and Peace and for more than a month of bus rides, I read it. When I’d finished, not only had I accomplished something that most people only say they have, but I’d read a wonderful book, and saved mucho dinero in the process. As I said, I’m a friggin’ genius.

Since then, I’ve read a lot of really, really long or really, really difficult books. Some of them I’ve loved (being serious for a moment, I cried on the bus when I read the mother’s letter in Grossman’s Life and Fate; then I got off the bus, walked off the main road, and sat under a tree for almost an hour until I felt like I could join the world again), some of them not so much. I thought that here, as a way of telling you something about my “mindless diversions”**, I’d tell you about four of them that you may not have read, but that I really hope you will. Then you can tell me some that you think I should read.

Consider this also to be an invitation to take 80 minutes a day, or even every other day or so, to turn off the phone, turn off the TV, turn off the chores and the kids and the husband or wife (you’d be surprised how easy it is to do), and decompress with some books you never would have read otherwise.

August 1914 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (896 pages)

Some of you have just read The First Circle, the Solzhenitsyn novel that Jaybird recommended (and thanks for that, Jay, it is awesome). Remember how that book is really long and filled with too many characters to follow without a Rolodex? This book is just like that, but this time it’s set in the opening days of World War I, as the Russians invade East Prussia in support of their Western allies, who were at that moment being driven back 500 miles away. Solzhenitsyn’s beautifully wrought historical novel is an attempt to understand how the utter failure of tsarist forces, completely unprepared for modern warfare on this scale, and burdened by an antiquated command structure more devastating than the German artillery, precipitated a sequence of events that ultimately led to the rise of the Bolsheviks and the oppressive Soviet state.
Recommended companion to this book: November 1916 (1040 pages), also by Solzhenitsyn.

Petersburg by Andrei Bely (560 pages)

If you’re thinking, “560 pages, that’s not so bad,” then you haven’t read Petersburg, and if you haven’t read Petersburg, chances are you haven’t read anything like Petersburg. It is a symbolist masterpiece, championed by Nabokov, who remarked in 1965:

My greatest masterpieces of twentieth century prose are, in this order: Joyce’s Ulysses, Kafka’s Transformation, Bely’s Petersburg, and the first half of Proust’s fairy tale In Search of Lost Time.

So you know it’s good.
The story here is of secondary importance, but if you must know, it’s about the bumbling son of a quasi-aristocratic tsarist functionary who decides to be a revolutionary and receives as his first assignment the task of killing his father, during the lead up to the 1905 revolution. The real protagonist of this story, however, is the city of St Petersburg itself, and the many scenes within it that bridge the old world and the burgeoning new one, and paint a picture of a Russian society that was withering at the top and seething at the bottom. Reading this book is an experience, and I hope you try it for yourself.
Recommended companion to this book: Platonov’s The Foundation Pit (208 pages, because trust me, when you finish Petersburg, your brain’s going to need a break).

Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann (544 pages)

I loved, and I mean loved, Magic Mountain (720 pages), so as soon as I finished it I immediately read Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years (400 pages), Death in Venice (80 pages), and Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family (776 pages), but when I got to Doctor Faustus, I quickly realized that I had run into brick wall. Like Petersburg, this book is only of moderate length, but it is far and away the most difficult book I have ever finished (which excludes Finnegan’s Wake), and I had to start it at least a half dozen times before I was finally able to finish it, which I was finally able to do on the bus.

Unlike in Petersburg, here the story and its two main characters are the symbols, and all of Germany as it raced towards Nazism and global conflagration, is what they symbolized. Leverkühn is a composer of average talent who purposefully (on the advice, it seems, of the devil) sleeps with a prostitute who has syphilis, believing the ensuing insanity will allow him to achieve the greatness he feels is his birthright. Zeitblom, Leverkühn’s greatest admirer, and the story’s narrator, is old-fashione and sensible, but nothing he says or does can hault Leverkühn’s descent into madness.
Recommended companion to this book: Goethe’s Faust (512 pages), of course, while listening to Robert Johnson.

With Fire and Sword by Henryk Sienkiewicz (1135 pages)
Have you ever read a book that you immediately wanted to tell everyone about? This is that book for me. I actually recommended it to Jaybird in comments here just the other day! It is the first book in what the Polish simply call “The Trilogy,” an incredible telling of the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, first in this book as it is weakened a Cossack rebellion with the aid of the Tatars, and subsequently (in the next two books) by invasion. The story primarily follows Skshetuski, a fiercely loyal Polish knight and cavalry commander who survives injuries and lengthy sieges driven by hope of returning to his beloved Helen. Helen’s other main suitor is out to kill him (and he’s a dangerous, dangerous man), and much of the plot revolves around their conflict. It might sound a bit trite, but it is not. This is a masterpiece, and its tale is as epic as epic gets.
Recommended companions to this book: The Deluge (1290 pages, in two volumes) and Pan Michael (594 pages).


* I include evolutionary biology as a topic not even remotely related to cognitive science strictly to irk James H. You’re welcome, Hanley.

** I love that the name of this blog is both literal and ironic: the topic is diversions, but if you’ve read Jaybird’s posts on games, television, movies, or wrestling, Glyph’s posts on music, Mike’s Philomathy jokes, or hell, even Kazzy’s posts on basketball, you know damn well that they ain’t mindless.


Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.


  1. I loved this post, and I am now having fond memories of my own bus-ridin’ days. (Iwalk, now – and I still read – but it’s a different thing.) Thanks for the recommendations.

    Also, Hanley is not the only one you irked. *squints fiercely at you*

  2. Thanks to Leaguefest, I learned to like the bus just a few weeks ago in Chicago. I bought a car when I turned 16, because I lived (and have lived ever since) in rural areas. I wouldn’t mind someone chauffeuring me to and from work while I read. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

    • Oh, and as a motorcycle enthusiast I was a little misled by your title, but this is good too

      • If it had been winter, I’d have thought it about snowboards. But skateboards make for better transportation.

        /one rides boards.

      • I have to admit that this was somewhat intended, or at least that I meant to imply that bus riding was somehow cool like bike riding.

        We just had the Republic of Texas biker rally here, so I was definitely thinking about bikes.

  3. I used to have a long public-transit commute (closer to 80 minutes each way than 80 minutes total). What I most remember reading that I wouldn’t have found time for otherwise are all of Dumas’s Musketeer books:

    * The Three Musketeers: The classic story of swordsmanship and camaraderie.

    * Twenty Years After: The sequel. The story takes a while to get going, but once it does it’s even faster-paced and more exciting than the original.

    *The Vicomte De Bragellone, in three volumes:
    ** The Vicomte De Bragellone
    ** Louise de la Vallière
    ** The Man in the Iron Mask
    (Sometimes this is published in four volumes, with another one called “Ten Years Later” thrown in. This gets very confusing, because the whole Vicomte is ten years later than Twenty Years After; it’s not that one volume is ten years after the previous volume.)
    In this one, the main characters disappear for long periods, as the reader learns more about Louis XIV’s court at Versailles than he might have wanted to know. But it has some wonderful set-pieces among the musketeers and the king, and the heroes’ fitting and in some cases tragic ends.

    • You know, I’ve read The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After, but I don’t know if I’d even heard of the first two of the three subsequent ones (I’ve heard of The Man in the Iron Mask, of course, ’cause I’ve seen the movie). It looks like they’re all available in free Kindle editions, which is exactly my price.

      At this rate, I’m going to have like my next year of bus reads taken care of.

      • It’s one big book, just cut up into pieces for size. The Man in the Iron Mask is, depending on the edition, the last third or fourth of the whole. In the most common version it’s the last fourth, and starts in the middle of a conversation because the preceding chapter in the last one in the preceding volume.

        Gutenberg scanned a four-volume edition, as shown at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2609/2609-h/2609-h.htm. So if you read it there, the order is

        The Vicomte de Bragelonne: Chapters 1-75
        Ten Years Later: Chapters 76-140
        Louise de la Valliere: Chapters 141-208
        The Man in the Iron Mask: Chapters 209-269

  4. I’ll ask not only Chris but all of our academics: There are two more “knots” in Solzhenitsyn’s history of WWI and the times leading up to the revolution. They’e available for free download in Russian, and have been translated into some of the other European languages, but not English. Why doesn’t some university Russian department (or collection of such) jump in and translate them?

    • I personally have no idea. November 1916 is not a great book, though it is good and for people who are interested in that era of Russian history, or Solzhenitsyn’s views of it, it’s a must read, but I wonder if the final two pieces in the Red Wheel cycle are even more polemical.

      I really want to read them though. Solzhenitsyn is somewhere in my second tier of favorite authors, and I’m one of those people who will read anything that was written by a Russian. “Look, a Cheerios box translated from Russian. Awesome!”

    • decompress between work and home, where I would be required to parent, cook, clean, and spend “quality time” with people immediately upon arriving

      I soooo get this. But I live only a few minutes from work, so I usually read in my office for a whie before heading out.

      * I include evolutionary biology as a topic not even remotely related to cognitive science strictly to irk James H. You’re welcome, Hanley.

      Is it proper to say thank you even if it doesn’t irk me? I take the long view on this. The early application of evolutionary theory to humans was the baseless eugenics approach. Then in the ’60s we got the less execrable, but still primarily seat-of-pants theoretical stuff like Lionel Tiger and (cough, cough) Desmond Morris. Now we have actual testable hypotheses, even if perhaps the explanations are often tenuous and they may not be measuring quite what they think they are measuring. It’s still forward progress, and critics like you are holding their feet to the fire. That’s pretty much the tradition of the development of fields of science–remember, your disciplinary history includes phrenology–and saying “science can never accomplish X” is a tradition with a rich history of falsification.

      I’m sanguine about this. Folks will keep working on these questions, simply because humans are biological critters and “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” I have confidence in the working, however slow, of the scientific process.

      • Ok, that comment ended up in the wrong place. But I do have an answer to Mike’s question.

        The roadblock is that translation is not, by and large, seen as serious scholarly work in language departments. It’s not original research. So those who put in the effort get less credit than they would for publishing an article explaining a single word from Solzhenitsyn and the varieties of meaning it could have, and what he really meant when by using it. That’s only the barest hyperbole.

        There are those in language departments who object to this current state of affairs and argue that translation is not simly copying, but is an original scholarly effort because you have to go beyond understanding the nuances of that single word to understand the author’s meaning in all his words and sentences, then figure out how to best translate that into English, and at the same time strive for good literary writing in the language being translated to while not being unfaithful to the style of the author.

        It’s as much an artistic project as a scholarly one, and that may be part of the problem, too. It requires skills that are rare in combination. In some respects it might be better suited to someone in a literature department than a language department, but often the lit folks don’t really know the language and generally read non-English lit only in translation. And even those folks get more professional credit for writing their own original literature or publishing analyses of others’ writings.

        So it’s an academic structure problem. The task would require someone to take it on as a labor of love.

    • James, let it be noted that I actually think there are very good evolutionary approaches to psychology, and have been for some time. I used to cite Marc Hauser here, but umm…

      Anyway, I was just being silly and comment fishing (“This will get James to comment, so I’ll at least have one!”).

      • Trolling? Now I am irked!

        and I’m one of those people who will read anything that was written by a Russian.

        Semi-seriously, does this include Ayn Rand?

        • I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, Anthem, and The Fountainhead, along with the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, The Romantic Manifeso, and I started but didn’t finish Philosophy: Who Needs It. It’s been years since I’ve read any of that, though. I tried to reread Atlas Shrugged recently, since there was a bit of a Rand revival, but I couldn’t get very far.

  5. And one more for Chris: given your interest in eastern European literature, I’m wondering whether you’ve read The Good Soldier Schwiek? It’s a sardonic anti-war novel whose main character is a Czech serving in the Austrian army during WWI. He constantly frustrates his commanders by following their orders with an imbecilic literalness.

    • That sounds almost too up my alley to be true. All 4 volumes are now on my Kindle.

    • Thanks, Mike. I ordered it, too.

      And if you all like Satire and a link to Eastern Europe, you might enjoy Antrobus Complete, by Durrell, a series of short storues about the life and work of diplomats stationed in Vulgaria. It’s one of my favorite books.

  6. If you liked Buddenbrooks than I’d recommend Issac Beshavis Singer’s The Family Moskat, the Manor, and its sequal, the Estate. Like Buddenbrooks, they are in a similar vain and tract the fortunes and misfortunes of Jewish families in Poland. The Manor and the Estate take place in the mid to late 19th century and the the Family Moskat from the late 19th century to the German invasion in 1939. Read anything by Singer, he is very good. Besdies the above three mentioned books, his best novels are the Slave, Satan in Gornay, and Shosha.

    Singer’s brother, Israel Joshua Singer is much lesser known but good. Read his Brothers Ashkenazi, which is about the competition of two brother businessmen in Lodz and the Family Karnovsky, which is about three generations of a Jewish family and their relationship with Germany from the late 19th century to the Nazis forcing them to move to the United States.

    If you can find a copy, I’d also recommend Sholem Asch’s Three Cities, which is about Jewish life in the late Russian Empire to the Russian Revolution.

  7. OK, ya’ll friggin’ rock. I felt a little weird posting this, because I was afraid people would think I was just saying, “Look at the good stuff I read,” rather than, “This is what I read. I hope you read some of them too, and pleeeease give me some book suggestions.”

    I’ve put all of these titles into my wishlist. I should have noted in the post that I read about 4 out of 5 books on my Kindle Paperwhite now. The reason for this is that I have an old back injury that’s been acting up for the last few years, and carrying around those big books was starting to be a problem, so now all of my books weigh exactly the same no matter how long they are (and instead of a big backpack or messenger, I carry a little ammo bag that my son thinks is a purse). Anyway, I point this out because only the Israel Joshua Singer books appear to have Kindle versions, which is something someone needs to rectify. However, I will be going to the used book store next weekend, so I’ll see if I can find any of the others there. Thank you for the suggestions.

    • As to book suggestions, have you read anything by Cormac McCarthy? He’s my top suggestion for readers of serious literature.

      And have you read John LeCarre? It’s easy to overlook as just spy novels, but that would be like saying Solzhenitsyn just wrote war novels.

      • McCarthy skips the punctuation, and passes the savings on to you!

        I’ve only read The Road and forgave it there (though I still thought the book WAY overrated) because I thought it was a stylistic choice made specifically for that story. If the world’s ended, ain’t no time for commas.

        I have since learned he does it all the time. I will still read a few of his other books at some point, but this may be problematic for me.

        • Dude, have you read Saramago? He uses punctuation semi-randomly, no quotation marks or paragraph markers so that in some cases two people are having a conversation and you have to pay really close attention to know who’s talking. And it’s a blast to read.

          • He uses punctuation semi-randomly

            Just like Charlie Gordon.

          • Also, now I want to write an entire post about Saramago. I’ve met two kinds of people, those who love Saramago, and those who think he’s massively overrated. And I admit that Blindness probably is overrated, but Seeing is incredible, Cain is really interesting (but No Religion!), and The Cave is one of my favorite reading experiences ever. When Saramago was on, as he definitely was in The Cave, he was an excellent writer with an incredibly unique voice. It just might take a few tries to figure out how to read him.

            My favorite reviews of The Cave from Amazon (copied and pasted with typos):

            writing style terrible. floats off into lala land for whole chapters such as explaining how a dog thinks. story could have been told in three chapters. too much detail. dialog jumps from charactor with no breaks or paragraphes.


            Massively long blocks of text with little punctuation that interchange thoughts and spoken phrases betweeen multiple characters. The plot is slow-moving and not very intersting. The dog is the most pleasurable character in the book. If you want to read this book, bring your own pen so you can add in the appropriate punctuation.

            Also, this Amazon review of Cain, which is priceless:

            The editor of the kindle edition of this book should be fired. Errors made the reading of this almost impossible! Improper punctuation, no quote marks, no capitalization of proper names, etc., etc., etc.. I want a refund!

            This type of slipshod editing should never have been released for public consumption. Amazon should pull this until all errors are corrected.

          • I’ll admit that I find non-standard punctuation irritating, unless it is specifically in service of that story (= used to indicate the way those characters would write or speak).

            Using standard punctuation is courteous. It eases the signal receiver’s decoding burden.

            We use standard punctuation for the same reason we put in the effort to say “please/thank you/excuse me/gesundheit” – to grease the wheels of social interaction.

            It’s not wrong to not say “please/thank you”, but it also can’t be surprising when people find it off-putting when you don’t.

          • Saramago’s explanation for his use of punctuation, which often uses commas instead of periods, and doesn’t use anything but commas and periods, is that he’s directing the reader’s experience of the flow of the text, trying to make it more like an oral than a written text. He analogizes it to music, even, and describes himself as a composer.

            Saramago is an author whose books I never read one at a time, because it can take a little time to get into their flow, but once you do it’s such a unique experience that I find it highly worth the effort.

            I read Conrad (my favorite novelist) the same way, because Conradian English is best experienced through full immersion.

        • Glyph, The Road is an execrable piece of blatantly manipulative shit. I actually threw away my copy. Follow Chris’s lead: read the border trilogy, them–and onky then, I think–take up Blood Meridian, which is his real masterpiece, but not for the faint of heart (not because of his writing style, but the subject matter bad the way it’s handled).

          • Glyph, The Road is an execrable piece of blatantly manipulative shit.

            Read it with a book club and you may find that has interesting outcomes.

      • Yes and yes. I just read All the Pretty Horses a few weeks ago, and I am going to read Blood Meridian after I finish the border trilogy.

        And I am a LeCarre fan.

    • Analog. You’ll probably finish each in about two or three bus rides (they’re short magazines), but it’s well worth reading.

        • Yup. If you can, grab up the back issues too.
          (Not sure how doable that is, it may require winning a writing competition).

          • Not sure how doable that is, it may require winning a writing competition

            Well, that’s right out then.

        • Probably the longest-lived one still around. It was pre-eminent once, but has been in decline since the early 1950s.

          • I was going to say something similar, we all should be so lucky to have such a long decline.

            I’ve been declining since about 1987. I really peaked there, you know?

          • … that depends on what you think it’s doing, I suppose.

            Word on the Street is that Stan’s still looking for newbie authors.

          • Starting in 1939, Astounding (as it was called at the time) was the only SF magazine that really mattered: it had the top editor (John W. Campbell), who built a stable of the top authors (Asimov, Heinlein, etc.) and so it published all the top stories. (It also, not coincidentally, paid the best.) In the 1950s, the new magazines Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy matched and then overtook it with more interesting, better-written stories. Astounding renamed itself to Analog, a magazine that combined SF with actual science articles, although the “actual science” was often crap like Dianentics. (Hubbard had also written for Astounding.) Ironically, the magazine with the best non-fiction content was Fantasy and Science Fiction, which published an Asimov science essay every month for decades. Galaxy eventually died, though Asimov’s took its place. So there are still three, with Analog going back the furthest, but it has never regained the importance it had in the 30s and 40s. Think of it as the Cubs.

          • Think of it as the Cubs.

            Aww… now I feel bad for Analog and will root for it any time it’s not playing against the Braves.

          • I’ve been known to root for the Cubs, even when they’re playing the Pirates.

  8. I’d suggest anything by Salmon Rushdie. Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a children’s novel, is one of my favorite books. I’ve been reading Satanic Verses between bouts of must-read sci-fi, and I adore it. But I with the exception his more recent sequel to Haroun, Luka and the Fire of Life, (which I thought okay, and anyone who grew up playing Mario Bros. might enjoy more then I did), I’ve not read his work. I rejoice that he’s got a deep catalog for me to explore.

    And as always, I recommend Iain Banks. But there is often violence, and a lot of it.

    I recommended this for your son, but, The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazney reign amongst my favorites; all the books are published in a single, very-large volume. I think this series actually helped me comprehend the ideas of quantum mechanics. And most folk would not consider them serious works, but I’m twisted that way.

    Finally, it’s worth exploring the work of Samuel Delaney. Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand, Dhalgren and The Einstein Intersection are probably my favorites.

    • I loved Satanic Verses primarily because I went into it thinking “This will be like Kazantzakis!” and came out thinking “That was like Monty Python!”

      • Ha. It reminds me of Monty Python (so do the other books I’ve read), as well.

        The man’s nuts, in a good way.

        And that reminds me, Roald Dahl’s got a great collection of adult short stories.

          • His stories for adults are as nasty as his stories for children, and on occasion a bit risque as well. There’s a hilarious one about wife-swapping called The Great Switcheroo, which was originally published in Playboy. (Not that all Playboy stories are dirty; Plum Pie collects Wodehouse stories first published there, which are as innocent as almost everything else he wrote.)

        • Whatever you do, don’t read Joyce’s letters. They’re … colorful.

    • As I said, ya’ll rock. Just put a bunch of these on my Wishlist, by which I mean my reading list (some of them don’t appear to have Kindle versions, so I’ll have to look at the used bookstore this weekend).

      • There’s one short story that I want you (and everybody) to read. 8, maybe 10, pages.

        It’s Pericles on 31st Street. by Harry Mark Petrakis.

        You’d think I’d be able to find it online but… well. I picked up a collection of Petrakis short stories for about 4 bucks (The Petrakis Reader) and it had this short story in it and it’s well worth the price. His other stuff? Eh. It’s okay, I guess. Pericles on 31st Street? It’s a diamond. I first read it almost 20 years ago when one of my customers at the restaurant brought it in for me. “Here, Jay, you’ll like this. Nobody reads Petrakis anymore. They should.”

        He was a little Greek man who made the Patriarch of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” look understated. Stuck in Colorado Springs with nothing but barbarians. Our restaurant had decent coffee, though, and I had read some of the authors he hated Colorado Springs for not reading.

        Anyway, he brought that short story in for me to read and, 20 years later, it stuck with me. Now I’m telling you about it.

        • Alright, I put that on my list for the book store, and if I can’t find it there, I’ll grab a used copy from Amazon.

    • My favorite Delanys are Nova and the Neveryona books, but it’s all good.

      • Mike, (or anyone else), read much China Melville?

        I read Perdido St. Station, had some really mixed feelings about it. One of the strangest books I’ve ever read, and that’s sayin’ somthing, I like strange. Which may explain why I cannot get Perdido St. Station out of my head.

        So I’m hesitant to recommend it, hesitant not to recommend it, and wondering if others have read any of Melville’s other works?

        • He’s on my list, but I read so little new SF these days that I’m just starting on Iain Banks.

          • The Wasp Factory, which is not SF, and Consider Phlebas which is the first Culture novel, though we see it only from the outside via an unsympathetic viewpoint character. I’ll get to the rest, you know, Real Soon Now.

          • The Wasp Factory, which is not SF

            It is if “SF” stands for “Super Fished-up”.

          • It means IIRC:

            Navzny gbegher, n puvyq zheqrevat frireny bgure puvyqera, naq n sngure jub yvrq gb naq qbfrq uvf puvyq jvgu ubezbarf gb qrny jvgu uvf bja vffhrf naq vanqrdhnpvrf.

            But it’s been a while since I read it. Do I have the wrong book? Is it a romp?

          • That’s how I remember it.

            Just wanted to make sure that’s what ‘super fished-up’ meant.

          • Yrl’f abg sbetrg gur vzntr bs gur vasnag jubfr oenva vf orvat rngra ol znttbgf

          • You know, if you like this super-fished up stuff, I really do recommend reading Perdido St. Station.

            It’s fished-up world, filled with fished-up individuals.

            Both books are like driving by a car crash.

          • I don’t know if I “like” such books, but I recall that The Wasp Factory made me feel icky in ways that only a few other books/stories have – Story of the Eye and Apt Pupil amongst them.

          • Zic, if you like the book version of driving by a car crash, let me again recommend the book I linked under the word “strange” up there, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder. I will tell you the basic story, so you can see how strange and “watching a car crash”-like it is.

            The story is told from the perspective of a man who’s had some sort of horrible head injury as a result of a large metal object (we never find out what, or why) falling from the sky and bonking him on the head. The story picks up when he is just out of the hospital and receiving a large sum of money from the company that owned the mysterious metal object as compensation for his injuries and suffering.

            The protagonist, whose name we never learn, has amnesia and some serious cognitive issues, which manifest in obsessions, first with communication networks and interconnectivity, and then with authenticity (he sees movies as more authentic than reality), and finally with a memory that he can’t place, but is convinced is real and that he needs to get back to in order to feel real/authentic. This memory is a very detailed scene involving several people in a large residential building (and includes the neighboring buildings), and he becomes convinced that he needs to reconstruct it, so he begins to spend all of his money buying just the right building and hiring just the right actors to live in it and reenact the scene continuously. As you can imagine, this is a path that can’t end in a good place.

        • Mieville: I’ve only read King Rat, but I loved it so much that I’ve been avoiding reading anything else by him (a very good sign, when that happens).

    • Rushdie writes some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful stories and chapters in the English language, but I find that his novels as a whole often don’t hang together very well (though they’re still very much worth reading). Midnight’s Children is his best. The highlights of Satanic Verses were Gibreel’s dreams, which were mini-stories within the larger story, aimed at illustrating the tensions between faith and doubt, sacred and secular.

  9. If you like the Russians, have you looked at a standard reading list for a 19th century Russian Lit class? Lots of good stuff there — you can hardly go wrong. For someone in psychology, any of Dostoevsky’s major novels (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov would be especially promising — his characters aren’t as readily recognizable as Tolstoy’s, but they’re very interesting psychological examinations of certain types of people.

    • Have you read Lermontov? He was incredibly influential on Russian poetry and prose, and he wrote everything by age 27… ’cause he was killed in a duel at 27… at age 27!

      • Chris, I downloaded a copy of Quiet Goes the Don (is that right?) on your suggestion, and … it’s almost unreadable. It’s like someone took a ragged, dog-eared, decades old copy of from the outhouse and scanned it then immediately his “submit” to the Amazon Kindle page. I usually don’t get too distracted by typos and paragraph breaks inserted into sentences and garbality and whatnot, but this copy is really testing my patience.

        Content-wise? I’m pretty it’s possible I like it. Maybe. It’s hard to tell.

        • Ugh, that sucks.

          This is the translation I have. It’s an older translation, but it is very readable and I had no problems with the book itself.

          I hope this experience hasn’t soured you on the book itself.

      • I read Hero of Our Time in English (amazing that a 26-year-old could create such a jaded character) and a bunch of poetry in Russian. Fun fact: the poem that John Cleese recites in A Fish Called Wanda is a Lermontov poem (“Molitva”).

        These young geniuses always remind me of a Tom Lehrer line — “… it’s people like that who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished. It is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age … he’d been dead for two years.”

          • Reading Crime and Punishment as a freshman inspired me to learn Russian. From there it eventually led me to a B.A. in Russian Lit and then grad school in Slavic Languages. The latter was kind of a wrong turn, but it had some interesting scenery.

        • try knowing someone who was working several jobs before graduating high school. Including published author and game designer.

    • Oh, and a shout out to The Idiot. The only FD novel I’ve read three times. (Long ago, unfortunately, which gives me an idea for a future reading list.)

      • Father: Remember that nice boy next door, Raskolnikov?
        Boris: Yeah.
        Father: He killed two ladies.
        Boris: What a nasty story.
        Father: Bobak told it to me. He heard it from one of the Karamazov brothers.
        Boris: He must have been possessed.
        Father: Well, he was a raw youth.
        Boris: Raw youth, he was an idiot!
        Father: He acted assaulted and injured.
        Boris: I heard he was a gambler.
        Father: You know, he could be your double!
        Boris: Really, how novel

        • Boris: How’d you find out about all this?
          Father: Last night I found some notes from the underground.
          Boris: how’d you read em in the dark?
          Father: it was a white night.

  10. Nothing to add. Its the only way I can read the replies in order. Question: Is this not being able to get to the replies a forever thing or a short term glitch?

    • It has been reported to The Powers That Be and efforts to fix are underway, but so far have been unsuccessful in resolving the problem.

    • What kind of hardware are you using to read the site, and which browser?

  11. Don’t know if it will last but got all the replies this time. My computer is an H@P. I use internet explorer with google as my home page. Hope that answers your question.
    Also I want to thank everyone for all the above.

    • Same thing happened to me this morning… until I logged in. When I logged in, I was able to see everybody’s comments.

    • I have had similar problems when trying to read on my vershtinkener iphone.

      • Aaron’s using Safari, which we knew was a problem, but Dexter’s the only IE user I’ve heard from. OK, I see the same thing with IE: no comments until I enter one myself. Of course, that’s IE8 running under 64-bit XP in a VM on my Mac, so it’s a wonder it works at all.

        • Anne reported the issue in Chrome too.

          I run Firefox on the Mac and haven’t had the problem there at all.

Comments are closed.