June 25th, 2012

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SRP: A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava

I had a handful of summer reading books to tell you about, but I was too busy reading this thing to write. It was too fun to put down. Just another New York lawyer novel, really, about the bonds of family, the philosophy of pursuing perfection, the career of boxer Wilfred Benitez, and I think there's something about listening vs. hearing in there, too. And a perfect crime. Guilt. Justice. The character of Television--I mean, Television is a character in this book. And everybody talks and talks and talks and it's perfect! The only thing I didn't enjoy was the cover and incidental art, which are b&w optical illusion-inducing things. I couldn't do much about that since I borrowed it from the library, otherwise I might have applied either a black Sharpie or a tearing force to the offending pages.
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SRP: Satan is Real by Charlie Louvin (and Benjamin Whitmer)

Disproving the rule that you can't choose a book by its cover this book, subtitled The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers, was a rewarding impulse selection based initially on its dime-novel look. Charlie was the fiercely loyal (sorta codependent) half of Charlie and Ira Louvin, a country duo known for their tight harmonizing. The story of how they grew up dirt poor and scrabbled together a career in music is pretty amazing and the structure of the book keeps the stories flowing; I read it in a night because I couldn't not turn the next page, again and again until the end. I misjudged the universal quality of Charlie's stories, however, as I learned when I insisted that Brian take it with him the next day as he was leaving for a trip. He brought it back unfinished and said he couldn't see the appeal. So maybe you'd read this more happily if you already had an appreciation for old-time country music? I don't know, I think some of the stories here are just damned good stories--I think Brian was distracted by the Heat games and didn't give the book a fair shot. I still recommend it.
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SRP: Memoirs of a Geezer by Jah Wobble

Jah Wobble, you recall, played bass in Public Image Limited (which had a briefer existence than I realized) and later worked on a lot of world music projects. His autobiography begins with his parents and runs through his childhood in a series of council flats in London, leading to music and epic bouts of drinking ridiculously and stopping that and working for the subway and then making more music. That's the short version, and of course you'd want that fleshed out a bit. This book, however, worries a little too much over lists of people and places whereas I prefer stories, anecdotes. I did appreciate his use of italics to set aside philosophical ramblings, because those were fun to read. The conversational style of writing dragged on me a bit, plus I had to use Urban Dictionary a couple of times to figure out what he was saying. Unless you're a fan I don't think this book will do much for you.
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SRP: The Death of King Arthur, A New Verse Translation by Simon Armitage

Don't tell me you aren't intrigued by the thought of a modern alliterative verse story! This book is set up exactly right, with the Middle English Alliterative Morte Arthure printed alongside the new text, line by line. I think the translation suffers a little from the effort of preserving the alliteration that defined Germanic poetry of the time. I'd rather preserve the flow of the narrative than get hung up on a weird word that's simply providing a voiceless velar plosive in the right place, like this:

(405) I account no king that under Crist lives; becomes No king under Christ will I fear or kowtow to
Doesn't that jar you? That's our man Arthur talking! You can just bet he's not kowtowing. I think that was the worst incident, but there were a few places where clumsy language detracted from the experience. Other than that, it's a gory tale of bravery, loyalty, deceit, and sorrow.
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SRP: Maphead by Ken Jennings

A couple of surprises here. I was surprised by how long this book was out before I read it—I saw it mentioned somewhere back before Christmas but didn't have it in my hands until a few weeks ago when it showed up on the "we recommend" shelf at my library (my wonderful, wonderful library). I snapped it up, eagerly started reading and then was surprised to find that I wasn't charmed by this awesome dude. It's a very first-person account of various aspects of maps, and particularly map fanatics (the subtitle is Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks) and he keeps tossing out real clunkers in attempts at humor during the first few chapters. I kept going because the guy truly loves maps and I did find his enthusiasm engaging.

It got better. By the time we got to the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress I was hooked. I loved the chapter titles (map words, all), I loved the variety of topics selected (roadgeeks, geocaching, and heaven-help-us road atlas rallying among them), and I forgave and even started liking some of his cornball family stories. The book ends on an especially sweet note because of that, too. And then it's not over: the notes section is the complete sort of notes section I want to see at the end of every book. Very nice!