Reading Resolutions

I wasn’t going to make any reading resolutions for 2008, or at least not any major ones — what’s the point of being free from award-submission reading if I can’t go where my whims take me for a while, after all? But then I came across Larry’s post, and while not everything he says goes for me (I definitely don’t want to review at least 50 books in 2008; maybe more like 30), most of it does. Additional to those, then, I’ll add:

1. Read The Baroque Cycle. This is the sort of thing I’ll never get around to reading unless I make a project of it, not because I don’t want to read it — I badly do — but because it’s so big that I’ll want to wander off and read something shorter half-way through. But if I say, up front, that I’m going to read The Baroque Cycle this year, I might actually manage it.

2. Read A Suitable Boy. Back when I started seeing the ever-radiant Nic (yes, of Eve’s Alexandra fame), we agreed that we would each read five books that the other recommended. She’s read most of mine; I’m way behind. In my defense, this is because one of her picks is this, Vikram Seth’s 1500-page opus, forced on me in a second-hand bookshop when I dared express a preference for short books. As of May, my excuse for not reading it will expire, so if I suddenly fall silent sometime that month, you’ll know why.

3. Catch up on my YA reading. I’ve accumulated quite a little pile of YA titles over the past eighteen months or so — Octavian Nothing, The Green Glass Sea, Flora Segunda, Life As We Knew It, How I Live Now — and this seems like a good time to finally get around to reading them. Plus, they should be nice an d quick, which will balance out the Seth/Stephenson effect.

4. Read for parallax. I’ve been playing around with ideas of what books I want to write about here. I suspect most of my reviews of new sf titles will go to other places — Vector, Strange Horizons, NYRSF and Foundation. What I think I want to do here is, on the one hand, short fiction, and on the other, clusters of books that I haven’t read before but that (in theory) resonate in some way. So, for example, I might do a climate change binge including some or all of JG Ballard’s The Drowned World, George Turner’s The Sea and Summer, Mary Rosenblum’s Water Rites, Maggie Gee’s The Flood, TC Boyle’s A Friend of the Earth, and Stephen Baxter’s (forthcoming) Flood. (What’s the first climate change novel? Do we count The Kraken Wakes?)

All-in, I think I’m going to aim for about 60 books in 2008; I find that reading at the rate I’ve been doing for the past couple of years doesn’t leave enough time for thinking, let alone writing. But we’ll see how it goes.

39 Responses to “Reading Resolutions”

  1. Paul Raven Says:

    Read The Baroque Cycle.

    Do this, if only so we can discuss it. I’ll cut you a deal – you read it, and I’ll re-read it. Whaddaya say, huh? :) We could be really hardcore and throw Cryptonomicon in as well (which really will help you grok the trilogy properly, if you’ve not read it already) …

  2. Niall Says:

    Done! Nic plans to read it as well, so we can have our own little book club. (Anyone else want to join us?)

    if you’ve not read it already

    You doubt me? For shame …

  3. cofax Says:

    I have tried to read Quicksilver three times, and none of those times did I get more than 60 pages in. This from the woman who read Cryptonomicon in four days. I’m embarrassed!

  4. Kev McVeigh (Pigeonhed) Says:

    I’ve been thinking about reading The Baroque Cycle for a while but not sure I can commit to it right now. I’m half way through The Book Of The New Sun which was a resolution of mine and Hannah bought me The Divine Comedy illustrated by Dore for Christmas and I really think I should give that a go. So maybe I’ll get around to Stephenson and maybe not.

  5. Liz Says:

    I might reread the Baroque Cycle if they weren’t so bloody huge as to make it impractical on public transport.

    Spekaing of other stupidly-large books, you should read some Alastair Reynolds.

    PS is it just me who hears people described as “radiant” and has a mental image of something akin to Ted Sprague from Heroes?

  6. Abigail Says:

    Clearly, you should read The Baroque Cycle. It’s an important work by an important writer in the field who is probably going to return to these themes and characters/family trees in his future novels. But I can’t really blame you for putting it off or cofax for stalling with it. It’s not bad, precisely, but the same bittiness that was so charming and enjoyable in Cryptonomicon becomes wearying in a book that’s three times longer. The ratio of ‘cool!’ moments to ‘wait, was there a plot here?’ moments isn’t as conducive to enjoyment as it was in the earlier novel.

    Also: 2,700 pages; two female characters. Three, if you count the syphilitic sex-slave whose plight motivates one of the male characters but who doesn’t get any lines, or even an appearance, until very near the end of the third volume.

  7. Niall Says:

    Abigail: I may well treat it as an eight-book sequence to be read over the course of the year, rather than as three large lumps, for just that reason. Having said that, part of the reason I want to read it is because the reactions to it have been so extreme — most people do seem to either love it (e.g. Victoria) or hate it (e.g. Dr Roberts).

    Liz:

    Spekaing of other stupidly-large books, you should read some Alastair Reynolds.

    I’ve read three! Isn’t that enough? :-p (Actually, I do want to read House of Suns, which looks like it could be very interesting.)

    PS is it just me who hears people described as “radiant” and has a mental image of something akin to Ted Sprague from Heroes?

    That’s not what I meant! To my knowledge, Nic has not so much as singed a curtain since we moved in.

  8. grahamsleight Says:

    PS is it just me who hears people described as “radiant” and has a mental image of something akin to Ted Sprague from Heroes?

    Jeez, you didn’t actually need a toaster, did you?

    May well join in the BC reading group, provided it doesn’t start in the next few weeks…

  9. Niall Says:

    provided it doesn’t start in the next few weeks…

    Well, I don’t think there’s any danger of that. :)

  10. Ian Sales Says:

    I read the first two books of The Baroque Cycle, and then flogged the trilogy without reading the third (and they were first edition hardbacks). I’ve yet to work out why I even read that much of it.

    But I know what you mean about making big books a reading project. I spent Christmas 2005 and took only three books with me to last the fortnight I was there… Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars. And I finished the last one on the flight home…

  11. grahamsleight Says:

    Ian: well, if we all give up early, I will attempt to persuade the group to read Gravity’s Rainbow instead. That should keep us all quiet….

  12. Ian Sales Says:

    Gravity’s Rainbow? Pfft. Read the collected works of Lionel Fanthorpe. Just tracking them down should keep you quiet for a couple of years…

  13. Liz Says:

    My New Year’s Resolution is not to read any books featuring giant adenoids terrorising London. OK, so it’s a fairly specific resolution…

  14. Victoria Says:

    I’ve been looking for an excuse to re-read ‘The Baroque Cycle’; the first time I raced through it flat out and now can only recommend it by enthusiastically waving my arms around and crying ‘There is a bit with pies! In a carriage!’. But when? Before the summer I hope?

    Abigail: Also: 2,700 pages; two female characters.

    Yes, true. But one of those two characters is the subject of 1/3 of the Cycle’s narrative, and one of the fiestiest, most intelligent and most courageous women I’ve read in a historical setting. I think it’s also worth bearing in mind that Stephenson is writing about the so-called ‘Great Men’ of the Restoration – Kings, nobles, scientists, artists. The inequality is a representative reality of the period. Where there is a notable woman, Stephenson is quick to include her: Electress Sophia of Hanover and her daughter, Sophia Charlotte, spring immediately to mind. They feature quite heavily as Leibniz’ patrons don’t they?

    For my own part, I think what I love so much about the Cycle is Stephenson’s geekiness. He is as much a geek for history as he is for science and that excites me no end. His purpose is not so much plot as a portrayal of the vast carnival of historical drama, an admix of the irreverant and the highly serious, of the farcical and the tragic. Some parts are better than others – the first book is tighter and more controlled, I think, than the second or third – but it is always ambitious in its scope, and entirely loveable in its delivery.

    My prediction? Nic will enjoy it; Niall will appreciate it and then do his ‘but’ face. ;-)

  15. Niall Says:

    But when? Before the summer I hope?

    Realistically, I’m not going to get to it until March — Clarke aside, I won’t get my copy of Quicksilver back until late-ish in February. But I could easily aim for, say, a book a month (the eight books, not the three volumes) starting then.

    Niall will appreciate it and then do his ‘but’ face

  16. Ian Taylor Says:

    Gravity’s Rainbow was my “project” for last year. How I finished it, I will never know – must be the most tedious read since I read Shikasta for the ’87 Worldcon. ‘The Baroque Cycle’, on the other hand, was a joy from beginning to end (with only a little flagging in the middle).

    As for this year’s project, perhaps I should read the umpteen volumes of the Collected Ted Sturgeon?

  17. James Says:

    I loved the Baroque Cycle (and Cryptonomicon). I think Quicksilver is the worst book of the three, force yourself past the slow bits, Confusion onwards it’s great.

    But you do need a strong arm to hols the books in one hand (I have the hardbacks)!.

  18. Abigail Says:

    Victoria, I was significantly less impressed by Eliza than you were. She’s just too perfect – smart, feisty, beautiful, sexually adventurous. She reads not so much like a male fantasy (though clearly she is) as like the result of a lot of careful work by an author who realizes that his natural tendency is to underutilize and underdevelop female characters and goes absurdly overboard trying to compensate, making her practically superhuman and, in the process, inhuman. I’m thinking in particular about the complete absence of rage from any of her actions or interactions. There’s a scene in The Confusion, I think, in which William of Orange forces Eliza to fellate him as a way of sealing an alliance they’ve just made, and that’s just one example of the countless violations she undergoes, none of which ever make her angry. The fact that she gets her own way in the end doesn’t, as far as I’m concerned, undercut the creepiness of her resigned attitude towards her trials.

    Now, I’ll grant you that most of Stephenson’s characters don’t have much of an interior life, but when it comes to male characters he usually gets around his tendency towards clinical writing by making them what I assume are versions of himself – smart, geeky, opinionated, detail-oriented. With women – and Eliza is simply an exaggerated version of Amy Shaftoe or The Diamond Age‘s Nell (who also has a non-reaction to being raped) – he’s very clearly in alien territory, and it shows in the result.

  19. Niall Says:

    She’s just too perfect – smart, feisty, beautiful, sexually adventurous.

    Abigail, have you read Morrow’s The Last Witchfinder? I’d love to know what you make of Jennet Stearne in that, particularly since more than one person has suggested it to me as “The Baroque Cycle done right”.

  20. Abigail Says:

    I read the Morrow book earlier this year, and though it didn’t leave much a residue with me I accepted Jennet’s perfection because she was clearly of a piece with her own story – an over-the-top character for an over-the-top book. Eliza’s perfection isn’t treated with the winking irony with which Morrow describes Jennet, or for that matter any of the other characters in the book. Stephenson is deadly serious, and honestly believes that he’s written a good female character.

    The Baroque Cycle done right” is going a bit too far, I think, but there’s a grain of truth in it.

  21. Lal Says:

    I want to read The Baroque Cycle as well and a mini-book club might provide me with sufficient motivation.

    Speaking of other stupidly-large books, you should read some Alastair Reynolds.

    I’m failing to see how any Alastair Reynolds book is comparable in size to The Baroque Cycle. Does the strange format of the paperbacks distort your vision or something? :P

  22. Nic Says:

    Liz: PS is it just me who hears people described as “radiant” and has a mental image of something akin to Ted Sprague from Heroes?

    I had my doubts about the wording, too, but let it go since it was clearly typed through gritted teeth at the thought of ‘A Suitable Boy’. :-D

    Graham: Jeez, you didn’t actually need a toaster, did you?

    I wasn’t going to say anything – secret identity and all that – but yes, I can in fact toast bagels with a glance.

    Everyone else: Bring on the Baroque Cycle race slapfight reading group!

  23. Martin Says:

    This is the sort of thing I’ll never get around to reading unless I make a project of it.

    I’ve got The Crimson Petal And White on my shelf and I feel the same way. Any interest in reading that?

  24. Niall Says:

    Heck, why not throw in War and Peace and Against the Day while you’re at it?

  25. Abigail Says:

    The Crimson Petal and the White is fucking fantastic and you should go read it right now. Like Cryptonomicon, it’s the kind of doorstopper you end up wishing was even longer.

  26. cofax Says:

    The only problem I had with The Crimson Petal was that the fantastic literary conceit of the opening chapter was basically forgotten for 95% of the rest of the novel. I found that disappointing, but I did enjoy the novel otherwise.

  27. Nick Says:

    Martin: I’ve had The Crimson Petal and the White on my TBR shelf for the past year now (almost), so I may well be interested should you choose to make a project out of that.

  28. Lal Says:

    I’ve got The Crimson Petal And White on my shelf and I feel the same way. Any interest in reading that?

    Yes, although LibraryThing informs me that I don’t own a copy and I had a vivid memory of buying one. I’ll buy it (again) and attempt to put it somewhere where I’ll be able to find it.

  29. grahamsleight Says:

    Victoria says: For my own part, I think what I love so much about the Cycle is Stephenson’s geekiness. He is as much a geek for history as he is for science and that excites me no end. His purpose is not so much plot as a portrayal of the vast carnival of historical drama, an admix of the irreverant and the highly serious, of the farcical and the tragic.

    I’d agree, on the basis of having read Cryptonomicon; but this is where I should insert my proforma rant that if you want that history-geek buzz, Stephenson is basically one part Pynchon to four parts water. (Exaggeration for rhetorical effect, though not much.)

  30. Terry Weyna Says:

    Having finally read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell over the holidays, I’m definitely up for reading some other very long books that I’ve overlooked, and would love to join the group reading The Baroque Cycle (and A Suitable Boy and <The Crimson Petal and the White, for that matter). I’m always buying long books because I love the idea of them, and then picking up and reading shorter ones because they’re easier to cart around. Anyway, count me in.

  31. Paul Raven Says:

    I’ve not read any Pynchon, Graham, but the longer I hang out with people who aren’t bluffing their way in Genre Lit (damn you all!) the more I realise I really must, and soon. But as it looks like there’s a Baroque consensus building up here, it may have to wait till next year.

    Liz:

    … books featuring giant adenoids terrorising London.

    Niall appears to have avoided the giggling fit this time. :) I can haz nameless red condimunt?

  32. Philip K Dick Award Shortlist « Torque Control Says:

    […] other news, looks like we have a Baroque Cycle reading group. Tentative schedule, based entirely on my own constraints: read the three books of Quicksilver in […]

  33. Jonathan M Says:

    Actually, I’d argue that the Baroque Cycle is The Last Witchfinder done right in that it addresses some of the same ideas and the same historical conflicts but then actually does look at the history and the real issues. But then I’d place The Last Witchfinder on the same shelf as Laurell K. Hamilton in the great library of books that have annoyed me.

    It’s interesting actually how few people bothered to read the Baroque Cycle. I’ve still got about 500 pages to go myself. I suspect that more people would have read it if he’d released the books across a period of 5 years rather than cramming them into 18 months.

    It’s kind of nice to know that other people also go “how many books? I really can’t be bothered to read THAT!” bring back the days of Zelazny-style 150 page novels I say!

    As for the BC :

    Quicksilver’s the one with the most plot in it. It’s kind of a political thriller. The remaining to are more piecemeal with the three main characters just doing stuff but the tangents in quicksilver aren’t anywhere near as cool or interesting as the ones in later books. There’s one passage about a philosophical language that goes on for what feels like 30 pages and it’s amazingly dull. By contrast there’s a similar tangent in the Confusion when Eliza explains the way credit and currency function and you want more of it really… or maybe that’s just me :-)

  34. Rachel Says:

    Here via Abigail’s blog–I read Quicksilver in 2006, which was an epic struggle, although like cofax I tore through Cryptonomicon. I’d love a little book club to help me re-read that and then tackle the other two volumes.

  35. Niall Says:

    Hi Rachel — welcome! The plan is currently to start in March, because I have various things that get in the way until then, and run through to July-ish.

  36. Beth Says:

    Count me in as someone who wants to join any Baroque Cycle reading group! When do we start?

  37. Niall Says:

    Beth, the plan is to start in March — I have a very busy February to get through first! I’ll post a reminder when we’re about half way through next month, though.

  38. Out Now or Coming Soon « Torque Control Says:

    […] Now or Coming Soon Per my reading resolutions, I was hoping that quite a bit of my reading in 2008 will have some other date on the copyright […]

  39. Baroque Cycle: Quicksilver « Torque Control Says:

    […] Cycle: Quicksilver And we’re off! Somewhat later than planned, I admit, for which I apologise, but now the avalanche has started and it is too late […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: