I realise it’s been quite some time since I’ve talked about what I’ve been reading. That’s mainly because I find it so enjoyable to read books without feeling the pressure to talk about them anywhere in a review – it makes me have a great deal of respect for book reviewers. But on my reading pile towards the end of 2012 there have been some very good things and some pretty standard things. Dune needs nothing more said about it, but I’ll chip in with a few thoughts. I enjoyed it immensely. It was intellectually satisfying whilst possessing a sound plot – for me it’s the holy grail of writing, when both of those qualities are done well. Everyone knows the plot by now, and if you don’t then a few minutes of googling will set you right. But I thought it worth mentioning Herbert’s ecological thinking, which was very advanced for his time. The language he uses to talk about systems put me in mind of the work of Fritjof Capra, whose work only had influence many years after Dune was written. There was a culture shift in talking about ecology from it being a very broken down analysis of contained systems to a thoroughly interdisciplinary approach, with materials shifting between them, and Herbert discusses the environment of Arrakis in a very much forward-thinking way for the time. This is also at a time when Silent Spring, arguably the full-scale launch of the modern environmental movement in popular culture, was only just published in 1962. How Herbert describes environmental protection in 1965 wouldn’t be out of place today.
So yes. There’s more to be said about that and, if I can find the time and the inclination to do so, I probably will.
An okay-ish crime novel I read just before Christmas was Henry Chang’s Chinatown Beat, by Soho Crime – an imprint I’ve been impressed with in the past. Chinatown Beat tells the story of Detective Jack Yu who is assigned to Fifth Precinct, Chinatown, where he grew up and gets access to places that white American officers can’t. There’s plenty going on from gang rivalries to underground casinos and prostitution rings. Gritty in the properly gritty manner – not for the sheer sake of being violent, that kind the fantasy genre is plagued with, but a much more considered and emotionally resonant kind of gritty, where the shock really comes from the fact that: this is how people actually live.
The crime is fairly so-so, and the chapters were a bit to rapid-fire for my tastes, but it was a satisfying read. Chang has some good turns of phrases scattered about, and sets up mood and character well. The whole didn’t quite come together for me, though.
Other things of note. Gary Taubes’s Diet Delusion, which I suspect should be compulsary reading for any one giving shoddy nutritional advice or who is interested in the science (and history of science) of how our body reacts to different types of food. I can’t recommend this book enough and it will make you angry at the terrible advice, based upon the low-fat diet philosophy, that our governments give today. Taubes absolutely skewers the kind of studies that have been done in the past, and which have been relied upon to provide such advice, and points out precisely why the obesity epidemic and associated illnesses are here to stay.
For 2013 I have a bit of a different aim in reading. Not having studied English at degree level, I want to better familiarise myself with mainstream fiction classics. But I also want to ensure that I’m reading a large number of female writers – hopefully 90% – to make amends for historical ignorance. I started off with Daniel Deronda, which I finished last night. More thoughts soon perhaps. It’s a very big book and needs to be digested thoroughly.
And last year was a big year of historical research for Drakenfeld, and books on ancient civilisations are very much dominated by men (Mary Beard being one wonderful exception), so I’m going to search high and low for female scholars this year as well.
Yes, it’s positive discrimination. No, I don’t care.