February, 2006: Books

Thursday March 02, 2006 @ 10:24 PM (UTC)

Murder at the ABA by Isaac Asimov
Discovered: Christmas present from Mum
About it: A murder mystery set at the American Bookseller’s Association conference of 1975, and told from the point of view of a small, insecure, misanthropic author. It is clever and entertaining, as you’d expect from an Asimov mystery, and it’s fascinating to see even an outdated look inside the publishing industry; but the book gets an added fillip of the surreal from the inclusion of Isaac Asimov as comic relief, and he and his protagonist taking potshots at each other in the footnotes.
If it were food: Hors-d’oeuvres stolen from a private meeting. They taste better because they’re sneaked.
Quote: “And [Asimov]’ll sign anything, hardbacks, softbacks, other people’s books, scraps of paper. Inevitably someone handed him a blank check on the occasion when I was there, and he signed that without as much as a waver to his smile — except that he signed: ‘Harlan Ellison.’”

No Apparent Danger: The True Story of Volcanic Disaster at Galeras and Nevado del Ruiz by Victoria Bruce
Read aloud by: Suzanne Toren
Discovered: In the Recorded Books catalog
About it: This is three different stories, interwoven because that’s how the world is; the mismanaged volcanic crisis at Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz in 1985, the totally avoidable deaths (largely of scientists) at the Colombian volcano Galeras in 1993, and finally the fallout in the scientific community. While the stories are fascinating and sad in their own right, prepare to be very, very angry; first at the bickering, political maneuvering and poverty that cost lives; and secondly, at the face-saving, credit-stealing, and corpse-climbing that can occur in science. This book made me glad all over again that I got out of science. Competently written (the author is a geologist and a journalist.)
Warning: There are a few very disturbing descriptions in this book, of things volcanoes and mudflows do to human bodies. You can tell they’re coming if you’re squeamish, though.
About the reading: While otherwise adequate, the reader’s enthusiastic tone gives a ghoulish note to some of the passages, as if she’s quite happy to be able to read this exciting stuff and doesn’t remember those are real people dying.
If it were food: It would be a ‘healthy’ bag-lunch that gives you heartburn.

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
Discovered: Heard mentioned occasionally for years; received for Christmas from the inimitable mfc.
About it: A fascinating, almost operatic book set in a fantastic world where nothing is supposed to change: the huge, decaying, ultimately unknowable castle of Gormenghast. There, the traditions of the House of Groan are worshipfully followed by a cast of characters whose minds and desires are quite human, even though their bodies, exaggeratedly expressive, often verge on the grotesque. A beautiful tale of the fight between great, statuesque Stasis and the small, clever hobgoblin of Change.
If it were food: It would be a strange, exotic feast, perfectly laid out on a huge, venerable table, gleaming superbly in the candlelight…with one dish, somewhere in the richness, poisoned.
Quote: “This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.”

The Murder Room by P.D. James
Read aloud by: Charles Keating
Discovered: I had mentioned to my mom that I was curious about P.D. James, and she gave me this for my birthday.
About it: P.D. James is hailed as the current queen of the murder mystery, and as an excellent writer as well as plotter; based on this book, the plaudits are justified. The characters are complex and intriguing; the mystery satisfyingly difficult; and the hero, Commander Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, appealing, in his quiet way. I’d say its chief fault was leaving a bit of the motive unspoken at the end, implied but not delineated in a way that was artful but not satisfying. It is worth noting that twice, in this book, the author created body-discovery moments of such beautiful, taut horror that I shut the tape off to savor them.
About the reading: Beautiful; good acting, marvelous accents, and very distinct characters, including believable women’s voices (cross-gender reading is sometimes an issue in audiobooks.) I wish the audiobook company hadn’t felt compelled to put a minute or two of cheesy soundtrack music at the beginning and end of the book, but it’s only a few minutes; I can hack it.
If it were food: Courtesy tea and biscuits for the very unwelcome police — goodies with a side of tension.


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