March 19th, 2006


Three Books! Illiterates need not apply.

Three recent finishes:

Tim Powers' Expiration Date: I had heard many people say that this and Earthquake Weather, which are pseudo-sequels to Last Call, were not very good. I think Last Call is Tim's best book, so I was mentally prepared for something not-as-good. This mental preparation probably helped me enjoy the book. It is nowhere near as good as Last Call, but still falls well above the mediocre line. I knew it was squirreled away somewhere in there, but it was still neat to see the reference to 'Donahue at Raleigh'. This seems to be a failure of an actual review. So just go read Last Call.

Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity by Elizabeth Gold. The non-fictional story of a New York poet who gets tossed into a progressive school to teach English to urban hooligans. She comes in at the middle of the year as the 4th teacher in that classroom. The writing and poetic interludes are somewhat annoying, but it's still a good introduction to what's wrong with education today. And what is wrong, you ask? Everything. There's blame everywhere to go around. The kids, the teachers, the administration, the parents. The tone of the book dances between comedy and tragedy. The author is somewhat self-absorbed, but perhaps the most refreshing thing about the book is her openness in discussing her own shortcomings. Though, since she is so self-absorbed, I'm not sure she realizes that the picture she paints of herself shows a bad teacher. An interesting picture from the front lines - not bullshit from the school administration or the education authorities. On the whole, it's less entertaining than Azrael's stories of teaching English in Japan [thanks to marlo for reminding me of this guy. I caught up on a whole year of new stories.] So just go read about kancho.

The Man who was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton: It's one of those books you hear about all the time, but never read. That's as it should be. Absolute bollocks. The first ten pages or so might be the start of an interesting suspense story, but the book rapidly spins out of control. After about 30 pages, all suspense evaporates, because you know exactly what's going to happen for the next few chapters. By the time you get through that, you know the general shape of the allegorical wrap up that must ensue. It's much less polemical than, say, CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters, but I see some similarities beyond the personal connections of the authors. Neither book is very diverting or very enjoyable, but they will stay in print forever because of the intellectual niche they inhabit. So just go read The 39 Steps; it's not very good either, but at least there's no bait-and-switch involved.