User Profile

peter Locked account

Joined 10 months, 1 week ago

This link opens in a pop-up window

peter's books

Stopped Reading

The Lies That Bind (Paperback, 2019, Profile Books) 4 stars

An interesting attempt to break down identity politics by showing the shaky foundation on which the concepts of class, country, creed, colour, and culture all rest. Actually, shaky is probably an understatement given how many of the concepts were intended as weapons from the very beginning, and I always appreciate a good reminder that essentially all categories are inventions. That said, while it's easy to agree with Appiah that there are dangerously flawed assumptions at the base of all these ideas, it's harder to see how to apply that understanding in a way that doesn't translate into trying to handwave away historical and systemic injustice in favour of naive utopianism (not that Appiah is in any way advocating for that, just to be clear).

Truth Telling (2023, HarperCollins Publishers) No rating

A bold, provocative examination of Canadian Indigenous issues from advocate, activist and award-winning novelist Michelle …

I appreciated the blunt, straightforward nature of this collection. Many of the essays touch on the same subjects and details in slightly different contexts, showing the far-ranging impacts of colonialist mindsets and practices. The (justified) anger that comes through in the essays isn't the easiest emotion to sit with, but that's probably a sign that it's all the more important to try.

finished reading Hieroglyphics by Arthur Machen

Hieroglyphics (Hardcover, 2007, Kessinger Publishing, LLC) 4 stars

An interesting take on the distinction between high and low art (specifically literature), although it really belabours its point. I agree with Machen on the idea that art is something beyond skillfullness and possibly even beyond intentionality, tapping into something that we can't express in more straightforward ways. He does digress into a few literary grudges, and I'm not sure I fully follow the "all art is Catholic" argument (which he emphasizes and walks back in pretty equal measure), but... there's definitely some truth in here.

Red Team Blues (2023, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 4 stars

Martin Hench is 67 years old, single, and successful in a career stretching back to …

Propulsive stuff, and an interesting read as always for Doctorow. I enjoyed how the detective is basically a more polite, more well-adjusted version of a Chandler or Hammett detective, still a bit inscrutable, still very adept at manipulating others (or at least of managing them in moments of crisis) but with more empathy, more enjoyment of life, and less nihilism than the classic detective story. Pulpy and thoughtful.

The Red Tree (2010) 3 stars

The cover doesn't come close to doing this justice. Wonderfully haunting story, and the balance of unreliable narrator and plausible historical research makes for an interesting mix of skepticism and suspension of disbelief. The best thing about weird horror is the way it makes a mystery of the mundane, and trying to explain this one to someone who hasn't read it is a fun challenge: "there's a tree, and... it's a creepy tree. There's also a basement. Not to give it away, but the basement—also creepy." Such a skill to turn that into a compellingly creepy read.

We have always lived in the castle (Paperback, 2006, Penguin Books) 4 stars

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with …

Took a while to fall into this one, but I'm glad I stuck with it. Somehow I expected more of a supernatural or at least fantastical element, maybe because the only other Jackson I was really familiar with is The Lottery. The twist/reveal/whatever you want to call it felt more like an acknowledgement of a truth we all realized, and I believe it was intended that way. Will stick with me for the depiction of a magical mindset, how intuitive and imaginative and sometimes poisonous (no pun intended) it can be. Odd feeling to be so immersed in a vastly different way of seeing the world.

White Cat, Black Dog (Hardcover, 2023, Random House) 4 stars

Finding seeds of inspiration in the Brothers Grimm, seventeenth-century French lore, and Scottish ballads, Kelly …

Just marvelous, one of the most invigorating short story collections I've read in ages. Prince Hat Underground was a highlight (I'm a sucker for that kind of initiate's journey into the magical world), but all around the fairy tale logic and unsettling undertones just seeped into my brain in the best sort of way. An all-timer, for sure.

finished reading Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Get in Trouble (2015, Random House) 4 stars

SHE HAS BEEN HAILED BY MICHAEL CHABON as "the most darkly playful voice in American …

Didn't fall in love with this the way I did with White Cat Black Dog, but it's still shockingly imaginative and quite singular. No complaints in other words, but I'm more excited about whatever comes next.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (Hardcover, 2022, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 5 stars

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) …

Gently questioning

No rating

Taps into the feeling of lacking purpose, or at least the need for questioning it, wondering why even when things are comfortable and work is meaningful it still can feel like there's something more out there. For such gentle books—ones that are almost entirely lacking in conflict, even—it's impressive how much feeling they can pack in. Still doesn't go into the religion in the way that I was hoping, but maybe that's something to start fleshing out myself, if it's something I'm noticing as an absence.

Saving Time (Hardcover, 2023, Vintage) 4 stars

Our daily experience, dominated by the corporate clock that so many of us contort ourselves …

Necessary questions

No rating

How to Do Nothing is a tough act to follow in terms of its impact on my thinking and experiencing of the world around me. Saving Time won't be quite as profound, I think, but that's also because 1) it's more an expansion than a revelation, and 2) I'm reading it at a time that doesn't feel as unsettled and open to new ways of being. Neither is a criticism of the book itself, which asks necessary questions about how we measure and value time, and whose interests those measurements and values serve.

Two concepts that I should hold onto: the question of the fungibility of time, and the notion of time as something that grows when shared (the metaphor of sharing lettuce that you grew in your garden so the plant can produce more, that giving is necessary to flourishing).

Stories of Your Life and Others (Hardcover, 2002, Tor) 4 stars

Ted Chiang's first published story, "Tower of Babylon," won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent …

Magical and often beautiful, but never fanciful

No rating

"Hell Is the Absence of God" has stuck with me since I first read it in a collection almost 20 years ago, and Arrival was an instant favourite film when it came out, but somehow it has taken me until the past few years to read more of Chiang's work. I'm glad that I did. Exhalation was brilliant, but I think this collection tops it—the combination of religious/mythical thinking and the methodical, engineering mindset gives each story a unique blend of rigor and depth. He makes worlds where impossible things happen but feel entirely believable, and tells stories that are laden with metaphor and commentary that don't feel didactic. They're magical and often beautiful, but never fanciful—which I mean as high praise.

Chokepoint Capitalism (Hardcover, 2022, Beacon Press) 4 stars

A call to action for the creative class and labor movement to rally against the …

Naming the problem

No rating

Plenty of good anecdotes on the way companies use their position as dominent buyers or sellers to manipulate markets, pocket unfair shares of wealth, and generally make life worse for everyone who isn't their execs and shareholders. The collective solutions proposed all seem like reasonable starting points, too—but while I agree with their point that systemic problems require systemic solutions, I don't feel like I left the book with a starting point of how to work towards that change.

Maybe just naming the problem and talking about it is a sound enough starting point. Chokepoint Capitalism is a useful term, evocative and intuitive to understand, but also expansive enough to capture a whole world of corporate corruption. If it bleeds its way into more general discourse, that can only be a good thing.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (2006) 4 stars

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, published in October 2006, is a collection …

It doesn't have the scope of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and it doesn't suggest the same depths as Piranesi, but Clarke is a delightful writer and these stories nicely flesh out her conception of fairies as a strange mix of sophisticated and feral. Decadent is probably the word for it—the characters, not the stories, which are modest enough and all have the feel, appropriately, of fairy tales for adults.

Charming as most of the stories are, the real treat was the brief return of Jonathan Strange. Funny how satisfying it can be to revisit a character in a more relaxed setting.

What we see when we read (2014) 3 stars

"A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading--how we visualize images from …

Intriguing visual essay on phenomenology of reading

No rating

This visual essay is based on a premise that doesn't really hold true for me, in that I have never really felt that I "see" when I read. So when Mendelsund tries to convince me that "seeing" is a false impression that's disconnected from the actual experience, I'm already there. If there's a revelation to be had from that, it's just that I thought other people with a stronger visual sense would have a different experience. Maybe not.

Outside of that, I definitely enjoyed Mendelsund's flair for visual metaphor, and the book's questioning of the experience of reading. It's kind of amazing how much The Master and HIs Emissary is impacting everything else I read that comments on perception and phenomenology and philosophy of mind. Here, Mendelsund describes what we "see" of the characters and settings we read about as fragmented, detailed in parts but not additive—more details don't create …