Saturday, April 14, 2012

March book round-up

How to Wreck a Nice Beach, Dave Tompkins
Library book. A book on the history of the vocoder, originally a military tool for scrambling radio transmissions, better known as the machine Kraftwerk use to make their voices sound all robotic, and latterly the secret behind the bandwidth compression that made mobile phones workable. It's written by a music journalist, so a) the style is that of someone trying really hard to sound like Jack Kerouac, which I don't mind but some readers may, and b) the focus of the book is naturally on the musical side of things. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and if nothing else it's put me onto the works of Laurie Anderson, which alone made it worth the reading.

Marvellous Codes: The Fiction of Margaret Mahy, ed Elizabeth Hale & Sarah Fiona Winters
So here's the thing: my familiarity with the works of Margaret Mahy extends to just two books/TV series written after this collection of essays was published, I have a couple of earlier books on the shelf waiting to be read, but I decided to skip straight to this alluring second-hand item to get more of a handle on her writing. It's interesting to see just how many favourite themes and motifs are picked up on here that also came through strongly in those two later works. This book has reinforced my impression of Mahy as a significant force in NZ literature.
Most interesting essay in the book for me, very unusual in its approach, was one that compared Mahy's NZ-centred fantasy writing with Alan Garner's UK-centred fantasy writing by rewriting one in the style of the other. I'd quite like to see more critics try that one.

The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse, Fredrik Brouneus
First publication by a local friend's small press and, as luck would have it, a tremendous read. It's a kind of wacky Buddhist young adult adventure novel - a teenage boy is drawn into a road trip around the Otago area with his undead grandfather and a Tibetan monk, trying to put right a terrible mistake he made in a former life. Apparently Brouneus has had two previous books published, but only in Scandinavia - several of us have hinted that our small press friend may want to secure the first English language publication rights.

Nested Scrolls, Rudy Rucker
Borrowed from a friend. Autobiography of the beatnik maths and computer science lecturer, the man who popularised cellular automata and who wrote a science fantasy novel about the different mathematical levels of infinity (and a dozen or so other novels with which yours truly is less familiar). There are moments when he seems in danger of vanishing up himself, but by and large this was an entertaining read.

Spy Thatcher (An Insult to British Intelligence), William Rushton
Kindly gifted to me by the in-laws. Willie Rushton parodies Spycatcher, the (in)famous 1980s exposé of the British secret service by disgruntled ex-spook Peter Wright. Many chucklesome moments and some surprisingly direct attacks on Wright himself.


Christopher Pittard said...

There are many roads, but we all end up at Laurie Anderson sooner or later... Which albums have you encountered already? *Big Science* is the usual starting point; from there, I'd go for *Mister Heartbreak* and *Homeland* (which I saw her perform at das Barbican in 2008). *Bright Red* is also good and features an Edward Lear tango. *Life on a String* is sometimes beautiful but also sometimes banal; *Strange Angels* is so obviously 1989 that you may as well put on some McCoy Who as an accompaniment (although scores bonus points for setting Walter Benjamin to music).

John Toon said...

So far only Big Science; the library also has Bright Red, Homeland and Home of the Brave. Some obvious further borrowing to be done. Must also keep my eyes open for Strange Angels, by the sound of it - I do love me that McCoy Who type sound.

So what's happened to your blog, Mr P? Surely we're due for an update after two years?!

Christopher Pittard said...

Ah, I didn't mean to get your hopes up - you'll find none of Keff McCullough's Casio stylings (or the like) on *Strange Angels*, just something that sounds like it's on the cusp of the nineties. At their best, the arrangements remind me of Annie Lennox; at worst, Tanita Tikaram. You get the idea.

*Home of the Brave* is regarded as a bit of an oddity, even among Anderson fans, being a soundtrack album for which some of the songs were rerecorded or didn't actually appear in the original concert film in the first place. It gets mixed reviews; I come down largely on the positive side, but I can see where others wouldn't. I'd leave it till last out of those three, to be honest.

Ah, the blog. As I think I mentioned in the last entry, work has overtaken it somewhat. Future updates are not imminent, I'm afraid, unless I surprise myself, or they get Russell T Davies in to do a far more successful rebooted version.