Books, culture

Decompress your verbage

I just wanted to share a little gem from Embattled Avant-Gardes which I am wading through at the moment.

“… this practice reflected nothing more than the typical experience of individuals living in modern conditions of space-time compression, in which personal identity become a precarious project of continuous negotiation rather than a received form that is lived out.”

It’s on page 14 if you happen to have a copy yourself.

Now I do understand what this quote means, I understand that it is a relatively compact way of talking about about a very complex topic. In fact I even like the rhythm and composition of the sentence. However… did the author really think that anyone was going to read that sentence with any enthusiasm or enjoyment? Instead it reads like the kind of dense, wordy and pretentious piece of academic barrier raising that it is. “Space-time compression”? Does the author honestly believe that the invention of the radio and telegraph actually compressed space-time? Probably not, it is probably just a yowie zowie way of describing the increasing quick transmission of ideas in the early 20th Century. It was probably also intended to establish the writer’s credentials. I expect English translations of Derrida to read like this quote but not histories of cultural movements.

The book is not as terrible as the quote above makes it sound. If you skip the introduction and the first chapter the historical element of the book seems perfectly serviceable.


Darkling Plain

Philip Reeve’s Infernal Engines kidult series comes to an end with what appears to be an attack of the Harry Potter’s. A thumping great volume three times the size of any of the previous installments. Fortunately the book isn’t any slower as a result but it does often feel like the pacing is off and while divided into four parts it feels like there are actually two books here.

Part of the problem is the number of characters and sub-plots that are now floating round. There are at least five rattling around and rather like Pirates of the Caribbean it feels like everyone has to have their fifteen minutes. It is a satisfying (and darkly morbid) conclusion to the two main characters’ storylines but given that this is something of a tragic tale the constant diversions into tying up everyone’s storylines is unnecessary. I guess having closure is part of the kidult nature of the books. I’m trying to think what I might have made of this as a kid and I suspect I would have been annoyed by dangling threads.

Still I suspect that there were really two books here and a lot of the material could of been dropped without much loss. Was there anything to gain by returning to London? Was the Stalker Fang stuff really necessary given that she had to be returned to life to end her story?

Overall the series is excellent in its genre and the final book has some fantastic set pieces such as the desert scenes and confrontation in Airhaven. The conception of a world of mobile cities also seemed more vivid in this installment than previously where they were just backdrops for the action.


The Book of Lost Books

I recently finished with a library copy of this book and overall I found it quite good fun. There’s a strong emphasis on poetry but other than that it is well balanced between genre, author and reason for being lost. I learned some surprising things about Don Quixote and the Divine Comedy and the book offered a good insight into the weird Classical half-life of works that are only known to us via quotation.

With each entry being no more than six pages the book was also excellent commuting fodder being easy to pick up, put down and carry on with.